I believe that you good people were promised more photos from my ridiculous adventures in birding at Red Butte Garden, and never let it be said that I failed to deliver. Plant photography is not exactly my specialty and despite there being actual signs pointing out what most of the plants were, I could not be bothered to take notes (I was too busy failing to see birds). Luckily, all that means is that I can’t bore you with interesting plant facts or something and must instead simply give you the photos and walk away. Which I shall now proceed to do.
Back in the days of yore, when I was just an idealistic young student taking my first conservation biology course, I remember my professor bemoaning the state of modern conservation. People, she said, were only interested in “charismatic megafauna” — all those big, popular, well-known animals that you expect to see in every zoo ever, like elephants, giraffes, lions, wolves, bears, tigers, and so on. I guess having a problem with this is a lot like being a biology hipster, but I could see her point; while donors pour millions into conservation and research for a handful of these “popular” species, hundreds or even thousands more are much more desperately in need of aid… or even just in need of understanding. It’s tough to raise money for the conservation of a spider because people hate spiders. It’s tough to raise money for the conservation of a jellyfish because, as we all know, jellyfish are the enemy. Try telling people that you want to save the monkfish and they’ll run away screaming. I mean, once you show them a picture. Nobody knows what a monkfish is right off the bat except maybe monkfish enthusiasts, if such people exist in the first place.
Still, I think there are perfectly valid reasons for scientists and animal lovers to choose their favorite species the way they do. Take E.O. Wilson, for instance. When he was a boy he suffered an unfortunate accident involving a needlefish and its close proximity to his eyeball which left him blind in one eye. Naturally this would put anyone off the study of fish, and Wilson’s passion for ornithology was rather nixed when partial deafness set in during his adolescence. (It’s kind of hard to find birds when you can’t see them because your depth perception is screwed up and you also can’t hear them laughing at you from their treetop perches.) He turned instead to entomology and became the world’s foremost expert on ants and a pioneer in the study of insect sociobiology, among other things. And all because birds weren’t an option.
This slightly laborious story is all in aid of explaining why I myself tended toward the study of rather large animals: because it’s difficult to study something you can’t see. In school I took an interest in ungulates — wild horses specifically, but also elk and moose and bighorn sheep and generally just anything with hooves because I find them kind of marvelous — mostly because they’re awesome but also, in part, because it’s easier to study something when you can actually see it. Despite an early interest in birds — no doubt springing from my early obsession with dinosaurs — I always knew that I was never going to be an ornithologist, or even a hobbyist birder, because while other, normal people would point to the sky or a tree or whatever and delightedly exclaim over some bird they saw there, I could only squint, perplexed, seeing nothing and wondering whether they were just messing with me. My own childhood brush with blindness was not — thank you nature — courtesy of a needlefish; rather, I was mysteriously struck blind and, after a period of time spent calmly baffling medical professionals, I just as mysteriously regained my sight. This episode was, apparently, as damaging to my eyes as you might expect, and it’s the reason that today I’m not the sort of person you’d want to join your badminton team. Without my glasses, I can see things fairly clearly at a distance of about six inches from my face; beyond that, it’s all impressionist painters. With my glasses, I’m at least legal to drive, but if you expect me to help you read street signs from a distance, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Of course, I’m not a big believer in limiting myself based on things like reality, which is why after I got a membership to Red Butte Garden here in Salt Lake and discovered that this meant I could do things like free birding walks, I was all over it. A nice walk in the garden with my trusty camera and a bunch of other people who have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning? SIGN ME UP. Oh, and please capture the birds so you can hold them very close to my face.
This next animal proved to be a testament to my fellow birders’ kindness and patience toward their fellow man. The conversation with one kind soul in particular went something like this:
Me: I don’t see it. Where is it?
Her: Okay, do you see that sort of bare area in the middle of the tree, where you can see through to the trunk and there aren’t any leaves?
Her: Focus on that, then go directly to your right. He’s on that main branch, right out in the open. Really easy to spot.
Her: He’s bright yellow.
Her: Okay. Do you see the bare area on the tree?
We went on like that for a good five minutes until the bird himself, clearly exasperated, relocated himself essentially to the front and center of the tree, offering us a fantastic view of his yellowness, at which point it took me probably another five minutes to finally see him. I told my long-suffering new friend that obviously I hadn’t been able to see him, there are leaves on that tree bigger than that bird. And he’s more creamy than bright yellow. I mean, seriously. He looks like a delicious well-toasted marshmallow, is what he looks like.
Of course, just because I had no idea what I was talking about and indeed no real idea of what I was even doing there among those very enthusiastic and keen-eyed birders, didn’t mean I was outside the reach of good fortune. While the rest of our company were gazing through their binoculars at some distant thing that as far as I could tell was a pinecone on top of a shrub, I wandered off a short distance down a side path to take some more pictures of flowers, as you do, and then I heard that tell-tale hum and turned around to see this kind gentleman stopping for a snack about two feet away from me.
Sure, he might’ve been super-tiny, but at least he recognized my handicap and got right up close… I actually had to step back to put him in focus with my zoom lens on. I might be a frustratingly awful birder — in fact, I think I might take up an interest in elephants, mostly because in order to study something bigger like blue whales I’d have to go into the sea and there are jellyfish in there — but every now and again, at least, fortune chooses to smile on me.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, with more photos from Red Butte Garden, this time with flowers and bees and… well, that’s pretty much it actually. Flowers and bees. But both of those are pretty much rad.
My dog Trudeau is kind of an idiot. I say this with all possible love and affection, but seriously though.
Case in point. Trudeau is kind of dog-aggressive, meaning that sometimes he gets on just fine with other dogs and sometimes he is a colossal tool. This makes my life difficult primarily because it’s generally impossible to tell, when Trudeau reacts with excitement to another dog, whether he wants to play with it or beat it until it pees itself. Also, since Trudeau weighs in at 110 pounds, he can be a little hard to handle when he decides to get in touch with his inner bastard. As a result, he’s simply restricted from getting anywhere near other dogs, which clearly drives him crazy and doesn’t help the problem, but what the hell, dog? You’d be able to indulge in all the glories of the dog park if you weren’t such a son of a bitch.
We’ve been working long and hard on his ability to listen to me rather than flipping his lid, but still, he is a dog. It’s not like I can just explain things and expect him to be rational. I thought at least his issues were rooted in some form of genuine dog behavior voodoo until the other week when we were passing a vendor’s table at a street fair. The guy had a stuffed German Shepherd toy on his table to show off the collars he was selling.
Trudeau caught sight of this completely fake dog and went full Cujo. I have never, in all the time I’ve had him, heard him bark and snarl and generally just go ape-shit the way he did over that stuffed toy. I’m pretty sure we gave the booth vendor — who had his back to us at the time — a heart attack. His life probably flashed before his eyes.
Once I’d dragged Trudeau away from the offending plushie, I said, “What the hell, dog?! THAT IS NOT EVEN A REAL DOG YOU JUST WENT INSANE OVER.”
And he said, “What? That was totally justified. He said something about my mom.” Or at least, that’s what I imagine he said. It’s sort of what he said with his eyebrows. I don’t actually think my dog talks to me. Honest.
Still, sometimes I think his general psychopathy is the least of his problems. A few days ago I took him for a walk on the local parkway, which runs along a sort of small swampland and is generally just choked with weeds and gnats and kind of nasty river grasses. (It’s actually not always a pleasant place to walk and it’s kind of covered in graffiti for some reason but whatever, it’s close to home and well removed from Utah’s insane drivers.) Trudeau chose to divert himself by eating vegetation, which normally I don’t mind — I feed him greens myself and I think variety is important to a dog’s diet, plus eating grass seems to be an important part of settling his stomach when he’s feeling not-super. But normally he’s eating a few handfuls of grass here and there. This time he chose to eat weedy seed-heads. You know, the kind that sort of look like wheat, with essentially big spines on them? The kind that look profoundly inedible? Things sort of went like this:
Me: Oh my GOD, dog, STOP eating those things! You are going to puke them back up and it is not going to be pleasant because they are practically BARBED.
Trudeau: You’re not my real mom! *noms*
Me: This is not going to end well for either of us, you realize this.
Trudeau: These are SO GOOD! *noms* Let’s take some home! We can grow our own! I’ll poop the seeds out and we can start a GARDEN, lolz! *noms*
Me: I hate you, did you know that? I wish I could just let you walk home by yourself so nobody would know that we know each other.
Trudeau: I don’t know what you’re so upset about. *pukes*
He waited until we were at the farthest point from home, of course, and then he started throwing up seed-heads, one seed-head at a time. We’d take ten steps and then he’d start hacking like a twelve-pack-a-day smoker, and leave behind a little puddle of vileness with a single sprig of vegetation at its center. Walk ten steps, repeat. When we finally got back to the river again, I let him eat swampgrass for a good five minutes, which finally settled his stomach, but that really could’ve gone either way… it could’ve just caused him to puke even more violently for the next twenty minutes. These are the kinds of choices that our dogs drive us to.
Trudeau is known for his poor food choices, though. He once chose to sneak a drink from a pasture drainage ditch while I was busy re-tying my shoelace, and took a nice big drink of brackish, standing manure run-off water. (That didn’t end well.) The photo below was taken his first time at the ocean, and as you can see he is drinking huge mouthfuls of seawater, presumably because his previous mouthfuls of seawater made him thirsty.
He will also eat anything that is thrown at his face, and simply assume that it is edible. He’s a very trusting soul. Usually he won’t bother to smell or taste it, he’ll just shovel it down his gullet. I’m pretty sure if I threw a chainsaw at his face he’d swallow it. Actually, we could possibly turn that into a sideshow act and maybe he’d earn his keep for once. Lord knows he’s not going to acquire any other sort of gainful employment, unless you can count “being a total knob” as an occupation.
If you enjoyed this post, I would like to offer you some additional recommended reading. You might enjoy my previous post about the day I threatened to develop psychic powers just so I could destroy my dog remotely, but I also want to very seriously recommend both Texts From Dog (every moment of it is pure genius) and Hyperbole and a Half‘s blogs titled Dog (in which the author administers an IQ test to her dog) and Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving, in which the Simple Dog discovers she’s magical and can make food, and the Helper Dog has a nervous breakdown. Both of these authors are seriously genius and I hope you will enjoy the ever-loving hell out of them. While you’re doing that, I’ll be over here, giving my dog Trudeau this IQ test…
The thing about driving in Utah is, it’s kind of like taking a detour into Bartertown. Sure, you were just minding your own business, driving along the back roads of the American west, maybe treating your dog to a nice vacation and doing your best to improve the lives of feral desert-dwelling children, and then suddenly you find yourself in a Thunderdome cage match, fighting to the death under the approving gaze of Tina Turner.
All of what I just said is absolutely true, except for the part about Tina Turner.
It’s possible that you came to this land on purpose, or that it wasn’t worth the hassle to drive around it on your way to somewhere else, or that your ancestors’ plane crashed here and you don’t know how to escape. I suppose it’s not far-fetched that anybody would come here on purpose; certainly Utah is jam-packed with natural splendor, if you’re into that sort of thing, and Mormons, if you’re into that sort of thing, and apparently a growing number of vegan eating establishments, if my newspaper is to be believed. But the trouble is mostly that it’s packed full of Utahns. And for reasons that nobody can quite explain, they insist on driving to places.
The minute you hit that border, mark my words, it is going to be like The Lord of the Flies up in here. One minute you’re driving along in a civilized fashion, using your turn signals and gallantly allowing traffic to merge, and the next thing you know you’re passing on the right, you’re squeezing into spaces that only Mini Cooper drivers could contemplate before, and you’re using the broken fenders and blood-stained seatbelts of your vanquished foes to create your own personal body armor.
Hey, nobody’s going to blame you. Once you’re across that border, all bets are off, and it’s up to you to protect your car and your family of four and the dog and your extensive collection of Journey cassette tapes. And if that means mounting a harpoon on the roof of your Subaru or ripping out a grown man’s throat with your teeth while hanging out the window of a vehicle doing 75 miles per hour on the highway, then so be it.
To give you the best chance of surviving your foray onto Utah’s practically post-apocalyptic roadways, I would like to offer you some important rules to live by.
1. Every other driver on the road is your enemy. Show them no mercy.
This is the first and most important rule. You might think that lady in the minivan with ten kids in the back is just some soccer mom hauling pretty much the whole team to a match, but in reality those hooligans are her road gang and they are prepared to bathe in your blood. Always remember to screw the other guy before he can screw you; it’s every man for himself in the arena, and as we all know, two men enter, one man leaves. Of course, that doesn’t mean that other drivers won’t form alliances in order to screw you over harder than a single man could do alone. These roadways are full of roving gangs of minivans and they are not afraid to Mormon roadblock you.
2. In order to deter attack, you must engage in displays of dominance.
You stand a better chance of surviving if other drivers are too frightened to fight you. This is why you must engage in ritual displays that will intimidate other drivers. The way in which you drive can send a strong message; for instance, if you always drive with a distance of only 0.2 microns between your front bumper and another vehicle’s rear bumper, it’s sort of the equivalent of humping the other driver’s leg while chanting, “Yeah, you like that, don’t you? Who’s my bitch? Who’s my good little bitch?” By refusing to allow other vehicles to merge in front of you, you signal your unwillingness to be mounted. Should you choose to decide to drive in two lanes at once rather than picking a single lane, this is a lot like lifting a leg and marking your territory. You get the idea. By engaging in subtle — and completely unsubtle — displays of dominance, you will demonstrate to other drivers your willingness to destroy them and to violate their spouses. This will also help you to identify which of the other drivers on the road will challenge you — they’ll attempt their own dominance displays in response — and which ones will roll over and piss themselves.
3. Predictability is the same thing as kill-ability.
An enemy who can anticipate your movements is an enemy who can effectively target you. This is why it is essential to keep your movements unpredictable, and actively practice misdirection. Never use your turning signals, except when you are not actually turning. Have you encountered a roundabout? Treat it like a four-way stop. Actual four-way stop? You go when you decide, not when the law dictates; hell, roll right through that bad boy, or refuse to go even when it’s your right-of-way. Traffic light out? Just blast through there as fast as you can, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Train coming? Flip a U-turn across the tracks; an oncoming train is a great way to shake pursuers, if you manage to survive. I know because I saw it in a movie once. I think it had Vin Diesel in it.
4. Take every opportunity for clever concealment.
Of course, you’ll be wanting to cut other drivers off as much as possible — as we’ve discussed, if anybody’s going to be doing any leg-humping here, it ought to be you — so it’s important to practice concealing yourself on the open roadway. When beginning to overtake another vehicle, spend as long as possible in that vehicle’s “blind spot,” that area where you are nearly invisible thanks to your disappearance from the other driver’s rearview mirror. Imagine yourself as a lion on the savannah, creeping up on a helpless baby gazelle. You may also find it helpful to conceal yourself by finding a large vehicle — like a camper or eighteen-wheeler — and driving so close to the bumper that it looks like you are in fact being towed. It is the perfect camouflage, particularly from police, and though it may seem dangerous to be following that closely at highway speeds, I’m sure you’ve seen The Fast and the Furious plenty of times, so you’ve got this.
5. Posted signs and road markers may be misleading. Do not trust them.
We all know that posted speed limits are merely meant as a challenge and that lowered railroad crossing arms are just an excellent opportunity to teach your car how to jump hurdles like a fine show pony. But road signs and markers in Utah add an extra layer of complexity that will keep you second-guessing even as you’re trying to engage in open combat with your fellow drivers. There may or may not be a sign to let you know that your lane is about to end abruptly. You may be rerouted into a single slow-moving lane for months by construction signs which never actually yield forth any construction. (More the fool you if you accept these delays by following the directions of construction signs. They’re not the boss of you.) When it rains, you are entering a special bonus round in which the lines on the road completely disappear and you are free to occupy as many lanes as you possibly can at any one time, while engaging in a billiards-like driving strategy where instead of simply turning the wheel to direct your vehicle to the appropriate off-ramp, you merely careen into the vehicle next to you and use the rebounding force of the impact to propel you in the right direction.
I know what you’re thinking. Utah? The reality can’t be that hard-core. Those people are known for their ties and their interesting ideas about marriage, not for their murderous road rage. Surely the drivers are worse in places like New York or Boston or Los Angeles. (Little-known fact: Drivers in LA are intense but you can rest assured knowing they’re all stunt drivers.) And it might be true that drivers elsewhere are more aggressive, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any drivers who pay any less attention to the road than Utahns. I think maybe it’s because they’re expecting God to protect them and also they had a very poor science education. They don’t realize that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Oh, and also, they want to kill you and use your sun-bleached skull as a football. I’d wish you luck, but honestly, I have to drive here too, so now that you know how to survive your next foray into the Deseretdome, I sincerely hope that you’ll stay out of my way because otherwise I will have to destroy you and everything that you love.
The title of this post might be a little bit misleading. Not because there aren’t horses and kilts — I didn’t take pictures of said kilts, though, I’m sorry, I was too busy ogling the men in them — but because I have my reservations about Ren Faires. When I turn up at one I kind of feel like a Trekkie at a Furry convention. I might appreciate and understand the enthusiasm and extreme fannishness of those present, but I am not One Of Them. While I enjoy A Game of Thrones as much as the next girl (Peter Dinklage, how are you so awesome?) and am actually a medieval history fan from way back, I mostly just find Ren Faires kind of awkward. My default reaction in these sort of cosplay situations is to find an appropriate huddle and start talking Doctor Who while pretending that nobody in the conversation is actually dressed up as a Stormtrooper, but when everybody who greets me calls me “my lady” (or more frequently, “my lord,” which is great for my self-esteem, thanks a lot), and when sometimes people say things like “doth” in a serious and straight-faced way, it just makes me realize that I am in the wrong crowd. I begin yearning for the fjords regular old Highland Games events that are much more in my wheelhouse. (There are several of those coming up in the area over the next few months, though, so expect plenty of photographs of kilts in this blog’s future.)
Still, it’s nice to get out and mix with those outside your social circle and specific niche of geekdom, and events like this are a jolly good time. The Utah Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire (click that at your own risk, because it will play music at you whether you like it or not) has been on for the past couple of weeks here, so I decided to give it a go, primarily because of The Knights of Mayhem, a full-contact jousting troupe I had last seen a few years ago in Arcata… I blogged about that over here, in case you missed it and/or wish to look at pictures of pretty horses again. They also have a show on National Geographic Channel, though I’ve never seen it on account of not getting that channel. Sadness.
Anyway, I really thought the jousting was the best part, so here are some fun jousting photos. What I notably did not get are shots of the actual impacts, though you can see a few of those on that previous blog I mentioned. I had a great idea to try this time standing in a spot where I could look down the list to get photos of the horses charging right at me, but completely failed to factor in that there would be squires at the ends of the lists to help stop the horses after each charge. Good going, me. Anyway, here are some guys on horses.
I have some more photos of the festival, including some snaps of the Oak Hills Vaulters kicking ass and taking names; you can find those over here on Facebook (and you don’t have to be a Facebook user to see them).
I have a problem with Johnny Depp.
Now, before you lynch me, I should point out that my problem isn’t actually Johnny Depp. Just like this quote, which has been circulating around Facebook often enough to make me homicidal, also has little to do with Johnny Depp.
I have nothing against Johnny. I’ve quite enjoyed him, from Scissorhands to Sleepy Hollow (although his Wonka was a little too psychopathic-pedophile for my tastes). It’s just that this type of misattribution drives me absolutely around the bend, which is why despite the fact that most people probably never get tired of looking at Johnny Depp, I have grown so annoyed just by the sight of his face that I want to punch someone. This is just another reason why I shouldn’t be on Facebook at all, I guess, but I am, so rather than froth at the mouth and post gentle correction after gentle correction on my long-suffering friends’ walls, I thought I should just blog about it.
You see, that quote up there, the very lovely and profound quote about that most fascinating emotion, isn’t Johnny Depp’s. They’re actually lines he spoke, in character, for the film Don Juan DeMarco. As such, they probably shouldn’t be attributed to Depp but rather to the character, since it’s screenwriter Jeremy Leven’s Don Juan and not, in fact, Johnny Depp who has so eloquently waxed poetic about life and love. You savvy? (Heh, see what I did there?)
By way of illustration, allow me to demonstrate how easy it is to make Johnny Depp look like a complete idiot and/or psychopath by attributing to him some other lines from his characters.
You see my point, I’m sure. Of course, Johnny isn’t the only person to suffer from this misattribution malady. (According to my spell check I just made up the word “misattribution.” Screw you, spellcheck.) Every line ever uttered by any character in any play written by Shakespeare tends to be attributed as simply, “-Shakespeare.” By this logic, Shakespeare must’ve been a Danish prince stranded on an island while trying to murder his Moorish rival while going mad and wandering the wilderness with his fool, and a lot more besides. He was a very busy man. A similar conundrum makes crediting the screenwriter or author for a character’s quote problematic; writers do not necessarily share their characters’ opinions, though they do put words in their mouths. The safest bet then, if you’re looking to attribute a quotation for a character, is to attribute the quote to the character by name, and also cite the work in which that character utters the line. That way everything’s nice and simple, and people who are intrigued by the sexual shenanigans of polar bears even know where to find more information on the subject! It’s a win-win!
So, just in case you’ve found yourself to be terribly inspired by that slightly abridged opening quote — you know, the one from Don Juan DeMarco? — and you want to share it on your Facebook wall, I want you to know that because I’m such a giver, I’ve made a new version of it for you. You’re welcome. I’ll be posting it on my page if you’d care to share it and help me stamp out rampant misattribution on Facebook. I won’t even ask you to change your profile picture to a cartoon character or post that you’re going on a vacation you aren’t actually going on. Sometimes it’s super-easy to do the right thing.
I’m not going to lie: I am a seriously annoying person to go to the zoo with. I can stand around and take photos of animals forever, not to mention all the time I can spend trying to find the right combination of settings to shoot pictures through a fence or in a low-light environment. I’m not exactly a technical wizard. Still, it’s nice to have a few photos to show for it, and at least I can rest assured in the knowledge that, while my family may only occasionally tolerate me, at least the people of the Internet understand. Here are a few of the best photos from a recent trip to Utah’s Hogle Zoo. I hadn’t been to the zoo since I was just a wee bairn and I was delighted to find many of the exhibits updated and some fantastic-looking new sections under construction to open this summer.
Just in case you haven’t seen it, here’s Eddie Izzard’s bit on evil animals: EPICNESS.
We had the good fortune to visit Hogle Zoo on a beautiful, cool spring day, and although there were about a million children there — and the bird show was cut short when the golden eagle went a little AWOL and couldn’t figure out how to get himself back down into the show area — we had a pretty awesome time. I can’t wait to go back to see the new exhibits when they open… but I’ll probably go alone, so nobody has to put up with my incessant photo-taking.
As you may recall, I am in general not always a big fan of creatures of the sea. Jellyfish, for instance, are at the top of my personal Threatdown list. But there’s more to an aquarium than jellyfish — and the lure of otters is too strong to resist — so today some family members and I took a field trip to the Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy, Utah. I haven’t had much of a chance to practice my low-light and zoo-ish photography, so I brought my camera along (with apologies to my awesome long-suffering sister-in-law, who has to put up with this same nonsense from her husband all the time) and managed to get a few shots I quite liked.
The aquarium itself was a bit of a disappointment — their interpretive signs left much to be desired, and a great many of the animals’ habitats were both small and overcrowded, with some of the views obstructed by slightly grimy tanks — but it was about what I expected from an aquarium of its size, especially considering that looking at the building from the outside it appears as if they converted an old K-Mart or something. I have to applaud them for having done as much as they have with the space they’re working with, but it’s clearly not the best possible situation. Luckily, a brand new aquarium building is in the works, with 130,000 square feet in Draper and what looks like a much more purpose-built and animal-hospitable building. Currently they’re planning to break ground this summer with a possible opening as early as spring 2013. I can’t wait to give the new place a try when they’ve upgraded their facilities. For now, if you’ve been to SeaWorld it’s not going to even remotely impress you, but if your aquarium experience begins and ends at the pick-your-own-crustacean tank at Red Lobster, then you’d probably find all of these exhibits incredibly diverting and educational.
I was surprised at how well some of these photos came out, considering my camera is not exactly the latest in DSLR technology and it was really quite dark in there. This last photo, of a sleeping green tree snake, is one of my favorites from the day. (That first frog shot is definitely the other top pick.)
I’ve been having a great time lately finding occasions to visit some of the local attractions here in the greater Salt Lake City area… it’s sort of fun to make yourself be a tourist in your native land. Keep an eye out for more posts and photos from around town as I continue to endeavor to get myself out of the house….