Serengeti Kopje Cat

Cheetah, Tanzania

Cheetah, Tanzania

In parts of the Serengeti there are granite outcroppings called kopjes; huge rocks in the center of the savannah.  Sometimes the kopjes are accompanied by a few trees and plants.  Hollows in the rock catch rainwater, providing moisture for plants to grow.

 

The word originates from Afrikaans and means “little head” in Dutch.  The result of volcanic activity, these rocks vary in size and shape, and are home to many different wildlife.  Granite formations rising up out of the flat grasslands, they have a vague resemblance to a head.  When pronounced, the word sounds like “copy.”

 

Our safari vehicle circled around this kopje and we found several cheetah here who were using the rocks for height to aid in their hunting.  Faster than any land animal, the cheetah runs with the grace of wind.  We were lucky to come upon this fast and fierce wild animal while he was still.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Texas Wildlife

Texas,-Barred-OwlMy idea of a vacation is to be out in the wilderness as far away from people and as close to nature as possible. As an outdoorsy adjunct to a family visit in Houston, we stayed at a working ranch in the Texas countryside.

 

The fortunate delight of our isolated and rustic cabin was the beautiful barred owl whose territory we happened to occupy.  Every morning and every night we could always count on seeing him, and often at various other times throughout the day.  Not only was he stunning to observe and a skilled, silent flyer, but he was also a “lifer” for us–a bird we had never seen before.

 

Carolina Wren, Texas

Carolina Wren, Texas

Also outside our front deck was a Carolina Wren who frequently visited a hole in the nearest big tree.  After watching this wren just a short time, we soon discovered she was feeding a nest full of chicks.

 

Other gems we found nearby that we don’t see in California were the painted buntings (wow), northern cardinals (lovely), more wonderful birds, frogs, and turtles, and two snakes.

 

The first morning we went for a walk outside our cabin.  The grass was very tall in places, so we followed our instincts to stay on the path.  As we walked along, a startled water snake quickly unwound from his lakeside resting place and ducked into the water before we could get a photo.  He swam away and said “good day.”

Painted Bunting, Texas

Painted Bunting, Texas

 

Texas,-Snake

Texas size snake (not a garden hose)

At one point we were in the car on a road near our cabin when I said, “Stop the car!”  Of all the snakes I have seen all over this world, I saw snake behavior I had never seen before.  It was a very, very long snake flipping through the air.  By the time we got the car stopped, the snake was no longer tumbling.  He was moving away quickly, on the ground.

 

Although this isn’t a very good photo (it all happened so fast), you can at least see how very very long this critter is.  OMG!  The longest snake I have ever seen!  “Texas size” as they like to say in Texas…and they’re not kidding!

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

A Mountain of Majesty

Mount McKinley, Denali NP, Alaska

Mount McKinley, Denali NP, Alaska

Some people visit Denali National Park in Alaska and never get the chance to see this glorious mountain.  The highest mountain peak in North America at an elevation of 20,237 feet, Mount McKinley dominates the land.  It has its own weather system, and is often shrouded in clouds or fog, or hidden by storms.

 

We had the good fortune to see several views of it while visiting for a week one August.  We also enjoyed the thrill of a small plane flight and landed in an ice field, Ruth Glacier, on the southeast side.  I wrote a previous post about the plane ride, click here to read it.

 

Local Alaskans talk lovingly and often about it, almost as if it was their pet.  Everyone wants to be a part of it:  climbing it, hiking it, photographing it, flying around it, and changing the name numerous times.  I love how majestic mountains command an area, and Mount McKinley is definitely one such magical place.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Ballard Farmers Market

Washington cherries in Seattle

Washington cherries in Seattle

It was the height of the cherry season in Washington State.  60% of the sweet cherry production in this country comes from the Pacific Northwest, so this was THE place to be for cherries.  And Rainier cherries, named for the majestic and nearby Mount Rainier, are a cherry cultivar originally developed at Washington State University.

 

I was visiting a friend in Seattle for a long weekend last month, and our goal was to make cherry preserves.  In California we regularly see Bing and Rainier cherries, but here I saw several other kinds of cherries as well.

 

Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington

On Sunday morning we ventured to the Ballard Farmers Market.  Several blocks of streets were closed to through traffic and filled with stands of fresh produce and flowers, bakery items, and dozens and dozens of vendors presenting their finest goods.  They close the streets from 10am to 3pm, in the vicinity of Ballard Avenue and 22nd Avenue.

 

This was an extraordinary farmers market.  We got there when they opened to beat the crowds, and it was a good thing because by 11 am the streets were overflowing with vendors, customers, street performers, and community festivity.

 

Ballard Farmers Market, Seattle

Ballard Farmers Market, Seattle

We reached our goal, pitted five pounds of cherries and made excellent preserves.  This winter we will have a taste of summer.  What better way to celebrate the zest of summer than by enjoying the magnificent fruits of our vital earth.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander