Category Archives: Animals

Lo, The Squirrels Are Ravenous

As if the East Coast needs a further harbinger of bad weather . . . I’ve captured on film an indication of just how severe this coming winter will likely be:  never-before-seen-animal-behavior.  Saving up for winter, certainly Not Quite Right, I give you . . .




On our Jack-O-Lanterns!

Caught, red-pawed.

Mugshot of the offender.

Close-up of the damage.




Don Quixote of the Modern College Campus

I took this picture while stopped in traffic on Nassau Street, right in front of Princeton University’s main gate.

The bus caught my eye.  (How could it not?)  It’s the type of NQR that makes me, at least fleetingly, rather happy, warmed-inside, representing a sort of harmless and hopeful craziness which, if it were to increase individually or collectively, would surely benefit our often cruel and callous world.

Some of the lovely, hopeful slogans borne by this Rocinante:  “Spread kindness to everyone every chance you get” . . . “Overcome bullying through love” . . . “One guy (Bob) and his dog (Gocart) traveling to campuses across the country to promote kindness” . . . “Kids need role models” . . . “Let’s all stop hurtin’ each other” . . . “Don’t Hit Don’t Hurt Do Help Do Heal” . . . “You Have Such a Big Heart Share It With Everyone” . . . “The Greatest of These Is Love”

The bus also provides an opportunity to show to people overseas who aren’t familiar with America one of the last vestiges of our vaunted hippie culture, a dream and an anti-capitalist fervor that once thrived on certain (more liberal) college campuses but has now disappeared, aging and mellowing, to suburban pacification or to isolation in certain marginalized movements or locations. (Though the ‘Occupy’ events of last summer still had force!)

I was happy to see this bus, here, in a place like Princeton where I wouldn’t ever have expected it.  I wonder how its owner fared, preaching or simply being among the scions of this elite, Ivy locale.  I imagine he found some folks to listen, others like me to look and think about his slogans and his message.  But, in the end, the thing that made me happiest of all was just to imagine him, a modern Quixote mounting his painted, slogan-covered Rocinante and driving, rescue-dog at his side, off into some romantic and futile sunset, tilting at so many noble windmills.

Chocolate Paradise with Animatronic Cows

Ahhh, lovely chocolate themepark place, how I adore thee.

Visiting a theme park, any theme park, something is bound to go wrong.  Too much humanity crowds into too small a space, adrenaline levels rise, people eat bad food, glucose levels spike, trends in wearing identical matched clothing magnify bodily imperfections to frightening levels (whether Youth Group Smiley-Face t-shirts or double velour sequened sweatsuits).

Yet the trip my family took to Hershey Park was almost perfect.  We tasted chocolate, dark, darker, milk, spiced = yum.  We bought chocolate.  We sipped hot coco.  We made our own candy bars.  Double yum.

Candy being specially made-to-order for us at the ‘Make a Bar’ attraction.

Chocolate actually flows through this pipe: I need one of these!

And then we took the little indoor tramcar ride through what we thought would be the machine-shop workings of the ‘real’ Hershey’s plant.  We wanted to see the Kit-Kats and other delicacies in their moment of nugaty, carmely, chocolatey birth.


Cow butts. Weird.

What we got instead were singing animatronic cows, sometimes (oddly enough) with their swishing, dusty butts turned toward us, all amid a flashing frenzy of lights, a Willy-Wonka-Meets-Ann-of-Green-Gables abomination from which all of us (but especially my stout and very nearly manly sons) fled as quick as the seatbelts and lapbars unclicked at the end of the ride.

Go there.  They’ve built it.  See it for yourselves.  And certainly build a candy bar of your own choosing.  But beware the cows.

Scary Dancing Cows . . . not sure if this shows up as a movie, but try to click on it. Animatronics just BOTHER me.

The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge

Joris Hoefnagel's painting: "Animalia" -- unknown whether the artist employed a fine camelhair brush in his creation

On to a discussion of the sort of completely esoteric (by which I mean, ‘interesting but utterly useless from a practical sense’) things a person might encounter during graduate school.  Add to this esotericity a small dose of humor and we have a subject begging to be NQR‘ed.

This is the somewhat famous taxonomy of “The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.”

As background, this list is reputed to be genuine, though likely is a fiction created or latched onto by Jose Luis Borges to show that all organization of the world into categories — despite the very convincing and cannonized taxonomies of Artistotilian and Linnaean thought to which we in the West have become accumstomed — is necessarily arbitrary.  In simpler terms, even though we think of classifications like ‘mammals’ and ‘reptiles’ to be fundamental to a ‘correct view’ of the world, those classifications are no more real than what Borges presents in this following list of ‘ancient Chinese’ groupings.

That’s prolly ‘enuff words for today.  Enuff high-falutin’ talk.  I’ll merely leave you with the original Borgian list, hoping that ideas will roll around in the back of your brain and that, the next time you look at something and slap a label on it, you think twice: “Does it belong to the emperor or has it just broken the flower vase?”

All animals fall into one of 14 categories:

  1. Those that belong to the emperor
  2. Embalmed ones
  3. Those that are trained
  4. Suckling pigs
  5. Mermaids
  6. Fabulous ones
  7. Stray dogs
  8. Those that are included in this classification
  9. Those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. Innumerable ones
  11. Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that have just broken the flower vase
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble flies


I’m tempted to write nothing to accompany this, the NQR factor being quite obvious on its own.  Saw it on a message board while walking into class today.  Had to take a picture.  Had to share.  (Hovercat controlling my mind with his beady and unflinching stare?)

Hovercat: fine print reproduced below.

— My choice of overlord matters to me.  With Hovercat I can be sure that I am choosing a reliable source of guidance for myself and for future generations.

— FACT:  Plagued by red lasers?  Hovercat is committed to finding and punishing those responsible.  Finally, leadership we can believe in.

— As a sign of Hovercat’s eternal generosity, kindly take a mustache.

How to Make Ruins Fun

After touring a large number of sites in the Middle East, many not much more than a ‘significant’ pile of rock their father identified along some barren stretch of highway, my two children, boys ages 9 and 11, had this to say:  “Just because it’s old, dad, doesn’t mean it’s interesting.”

So, how, as a parent (and an enthusiast of archeology and other ‘old’ stuff) could I keep them interested?

For this, I stumbled on a wonderful recipe and will share it now with all other like-minded parents who face the challenge of touring citadels and other crumbly things while keeping children in tow.

First, take one pile of old stones, like, for instance:

Amphitheater at Tlos, Turkey.

Next, add one small (but hopefully very quick and wily) lizard.

The Lizard.

Then, applying the wisdom of age and keen observation, father (or other parent), will notice lizard, take excellent close-up photo for later use in blog entry, then steathily indicate its presence to bored progeny.

The speedy little bugger hid behind the crumbled ruins of some nice Roman stairs.

Bake for 35 minutes, during which time father might enjoy, at his leisure and without harassment, the majesty of associated ruins and the gorgeous backdrop of nearby Turkish mountains.  Children scamper after lizard.

Scamper, scamper.

End result?  A rather NQR sort of entertainment, but happy kids and happy dad.

Younger son, 'permitted' to hold the Lizard by his brother. NOTE: this photo was actually taken at the Jerash ruins in Jordan. The Tlos lizard conducted a successful evasion. Nevertheless, the principle remains unerringly valid.

Turkeys in Turkey

Do two rights make a Not Quite Right?  That’s the question today, as we head into this wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend of family togetherness and feasting.

You'll just have to take my word for it: this picture WAS taken in the country of Turkey!

Turkey and Turkeys.

We chanced on these two beautiful specimens in the city of Ulu Deniz, on the south Mediterranean coast of the country of Turkey, while parking our car just off the downtown beachside boardwalk.  This was the ONLY time we ever saw turkeys ANYWHERE in the Middle East or Africa.  It was almost meant to happen, meant to be, the two gobblers strolling into view when our camera was ready.

It answers that ages-old grade school question, or giggle-worthy joke, about whether Turkeys come from Turkey.

Right now, at this time of year, its certainly comforting to think about both items:  the warm beaches in the mouthwateringly-named country and the warm, tender roast of bird that will soon find its way onto my plate.

Camel Invasion

Camping in the desert with friends, my sons were very lucky to experience some semi-wild camels up close and personal.

The group of camels (pod? posse? flock?) moved past the campsite at close to dusk.  The animals were very interested in the children.  Some of them approached the kids, stared at them, and even played with them, nodding their big heads in time as the children ran around and jumped.

Jack watches as 'his camel' rolls in the sand.

One camel in particular seemed very interested in my youngest son, Jack.  Not only did he put his head on Jack’s head and pose behind Jack as pictures were being taken, but he also took a long ‘sand bath’ in a pit of what must have been especially comfortable dust as Jack, quite amazed, watched him.

The best part was that these animals returned through the campsite the next morning, just about at dawn.  And Jack’s camel recognized Jack, approached Jack again, and the two of them had a long stare at each other.

Back home, in Wisconsin, we hoist our backpacks and food into the trees at night to keep away the bears and we count ourselves as lucky if we see deer or moose or beaver.  To spend this kind of time with the wild animals in Oman was, I think, All Right.

Arabian Oryx Conservation

The Arabian Oryx, called maha locally, is a truly beautiful and amazing animal.  It, along with a certain type of desert lynx and the Arabian leopard here in Oman, is the focus of some fairly robust conservation efforts for which applause and attention should be given.  Maha is also a favorite first name for girls in Oman, and one can see the reason why, given the animal’s combination of lithe body and toughness.

An Arabian Oryx on the road from Abu Dhabi to Liwa Oasis.

Maha are a type of gazelle, but with an exceptional ability.  Like a camel, they can go days (and some say even a lifetime) without drinking water.  This is an adaptation specifically designed to help it survive against predators.  If chased by, say, an Arabian leopard, it heads out into the vastnesses of the Neged, or the Rub al-Khali, leading its stalker so deep into the wastes that the other animal has no choice but to turn back or die of dehydration.  They are fast little creatures with curving horns and are even rumored to have been the source of the myth of the unicorn, for — when turned in profile — the two horns exactly mirror eachother in shape, giving the impression of but a single central horn.

Our one encounter with maha here in the Middle East occured in the UAE, rather than Oman (although Oman has set aside a huge tract in its Wahiba Sands area of the Rub al-Khali for Oryx conservation).  There, in the UAE, Sheikh Zayed al-Awal had a fascination for greening the desert.  All the way from the Oman border to Abu Dhabi and to Dubai, and then from Abu Dhabi all the way south to Mizaira’a and the other isolated villages of the Liwa Oasis, the edges of the freeway are ‘forested’ with date palm and scrubby thorn bushes, miles and miles of plastic pipe in the ground providing drips of desalinated water daily to each plant.  Some of these forested areas are fenced.  We wondered why.  Watching, as we passed, we eventually discovered the reason:  they’re used as a conservatory for the Oryx, with groups of 5 or 10 of the little creatures lounging in the shade.  At first, driving past them, I thought I was seeing goats or dogs.  Then I realized what they were and, though they usually scampered away when we tried to photograph them, we did snap this one fine photo, fence and all.

A creature like the maha seems wronged when shown with a fence around it.  But, its really us, our human incursions into the desert, and our hunting of it to near-extinction, that have perpetrated the true wrong.  We are what makes it necessary to institute a Not Quite Right like these fenced-in conservatories.

Middle Eastern Easter Critters

No, the camel didn’t deliver our Easter eggs this year.

But the Easter Bunny found him to be a convenient target for some western holiday humor.  One of the jobs that falls to parents all across America, but isn’t so common here, is the hiding of easter eggs (and baskets) for easter morning.  This leads us to our Not Quite Right topic of the day: housing in the Middle East.

We live in an honest-to-goodness palace here, compared to our expectations back home.  Labor is cheap.  Building materials (except wood) are somewhat low-cost, with most houses made from concrete (crushed rock and sand), plaster, tile and copious quantities of granite and marble.  The result is a big, empty, echoing, polished, HARD house that would be cold if it weren’t for the scorching Easter temperatures now reaching toward 110F.

Easter camel.

Where do easter eggs, those multi-colored plastic containers for skittles and wrapped candy, or those more traditional dipped and dyed hard-boiled versions, like to be hidden in a house like this?

On top of camels.

Amongst the childrens’ prized rock and seashell collections.

In the draperies.

Amongst the usual nooks and crannies in furniture.

Where do they not like to be hidden?  Anywhere outside, especially if they are made of chocolate!

At the close of the day, one of my Muslim friends sent me the following text:  “Happy Easter to you all and families.”  I couldn’t say it better — or in a more perfectly, happily tolerant way — myself.