African Antelope

Oryx, Kenya

Oryx, Kenya, Africa

There are 91 species of antelope in the world, and over 70 species live in Africa. Here’s a brief overview of a few favorites.


Hoofed mammals in the Bovidae family, antelope are herbivores with a keen sense of smell and hearing. They have long legs; and all males have horns, some females have horns too.


Male Kudu, Boswana, Africa

Male Kudu, Botswana, Africa

Everything else about antelope varies among species.


Some are very small, like the duiker and steenbok at 12-16 inches (30-40 cm) tall. The largest antelope, the eland, is 5 feet tall (1.5 m) and weighs over 2,000 pounds (942 kg).


The horns, as you can see from the photos, vary widely among species.


Klipspringer, Botswana, Africa

Klipspringer, Botswana, Africa

African antelope typically occupy the savanna, but there are species in different habitats too. The African Klipspringer, for example, lives in rocky mountainous areas.


We spotted this klipspringer leaping onto rocks about 200 feet above us.


A few antelope species prefer desert or cold regions, forest, or water.


Sable, Botswana, Africa

Sable, Botswana, Africa

Most are various shades of tan and brown, but some are not. The sable was oh so elegant, we saw only one.


Antelope information here.


Gerenuks feeding. Photo: F. Salein. Courtesy Wikipedia.

I love to come across the gerenuks. They’re the only antelope I have ever seen standing on two legs. The long, slender, back legs were on the ground, and the front legs were up in the air while they foraged on tree leaves.


A different time, in my periphery and across the river, I saw the most beautiful antelope ballet. Fortunately it went on for a few seconds so I could watch.


Stotting gazelle. Photo: R. Wilhelmsen. Courtesy Wikipedia.

It was a small group of gazelle zealously springing into the air in the most glorious way. They were not leaping over anything, it was more of a bouncing, like balls.


I later learned it is called stotting, when all four feet spring off the ground simultaneously. There are numerous theories about the purpose of this.  You can read more here.


Kudu, Africa

Kudu, female, Africa

In the African grasslands, whether coming upon a sprinting impala or a sauntering kudu, it is an honor to observe this diverse and graceful mammal.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander (unless otherwise specified)

I know of a fun mystery that just came out. Written by the same mammal who brought you the antelope today.

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Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross pairs, Espanola Island, Galapagos

Waved Albatross pairs, Espanola Island, Galapagos

There is a gusty island in the Galapagos where seabirds flock–a dry, barren, lava-covered place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.


Here we had the rare opportunity to witness the courtship dance of the waved albatross.


Espanola Island is the southernmost and oldest of the Galapagos isles.  It is the first speck of land the birds come to after traveling 600 miles (1,000 km) from Ecuador and Peru.


With long wings that can soar without flapping for hours, the waved albatrosses spend most of their life at sea, foraging on fish, squid and crustaceans. It is only during breeding time, their brief phase on land, that we see them so close.


A bird with a critically-endangered conservation status, the waved albatrosses gather here to court and breed–the world’s largest concentration of this species. Named for a wavy feather pattern, they have a wingspan of 7-8 feet (220-250 cm).


There were two surreal things going on that day as we stood buffeting the strong winds. There were hundreds of seabirds at our feet, different species, all performing bizarre mating rituals; and we stood unnoticed in the middle of it…could have been rocks for all they cared.


And secondly, these were rarely seen birds, yet they were everywhere.


Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross

The courtship dance of the monogamous albatross is a spectacular event. They clack their long bills together, much like two people fencing. They bow in unison, strut around, and vocalize a squawking serenade.


Short You Tube video here.

Wikipedia overview of Phoebastria irrorata here

We were also surrounded by blue-footed boobies, read my previous post about that here.


Waved Albatross parent with egg

Waved Albatross parent with egg

The frigid waters of the Humboldt Current are plentiful with sea life for feeding their young. And the island is also predator-free, allowing the birds to nest on the ground without disturbance.


Months later, after the chicks are hatched and ready for flight, the albatrosses awkwardly waddle to the cliff edge. Their task has been completed, the cold, nutrient-rich waters will warm soon, and it’s time to return to sea, teach their young.


Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross

Facing strong tradewinds, the albatrosses step to the precipice, open their massive wings, and gracefully begin their very long flight.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Española Island is located in Galápagos Islands

Galapagos Islands. Tiny Espanola Island is bottom right; courtesy Wikipedia.

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The Best Store in San Francisco

Rainbow Grocery, squashWith many of us strolling the grocery stores during Thanksgiving week, I am happy to introduce what I consider the best store in San Francisco.


Rainbow Grocery, a cooperative-owned grocery store.


With 17,500 square feet of retail space, they have 14 different departments. It’s classified as a vegetarian health food store, but it also has books, gifts, bath and body products, and much more.


Rainbow, apples

Rainbow, apples

There are bulk bins with cereals and grains, unusual flours, beans, pastas, olives, nut butters, and more.


The produce department has a dozen kinds of mushrooms; it is brimming with seasonal fruits and vegetables in every season. Look at all the apples, and they’re organic.


Rainbow, front check-out counters

Rainbow, front check-out counters

Nutritional supplements abound, as well as medicinal tinctures, herbs, and oils; and the most knowledgeable supplement sales people you could ever ask for.


Rainbow grocery logo.pngAnd don’t get me started on their bulk herbs and spices…so fantastic.


Moreover, it is not just great, fresh food to take home with you. It’s a culture.


A worker-owned cooperative since 1975, the store is owned by its 243 workers. Without corporate influence, the business is run democratically, including investment in the local community and environment.


Rainbow, Herbs & Spices

Rainbow, Herbs & Spices

Click here for Rainbow’s website.


Customers and workers here are colorful people of all ages, social classes, and ethnicities.


I’ve been walking through Rainbow’s doors for decades. And can say with conviction, that if you want to see the true heart of San Francisco, check out Rainbow.


Golden Gate GraveyardMy new mystery novel has a scene that takes place in Rainbow.

You can buy the book here.


Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. To all my readers, may your days be filled with fresh food, health, and lots of love.


Rainbow, pinatas

Rainbow, pinatas

Photo credit: Athena Alexander





San Francisco’s Victorian Houses

San Francisco Painted Ladies

San Francisco’s Painted Ladies

In a city with hundreds of steep hills, San Francisco can showcase its Victorian houses like no other place in the world.


Numerous neighborhoods are studded with the houses, the most famous being the row of six houses across from Alamo Square park on Steiner Street, also called The Painted Ladies or Postcard Row.


They were built between 1892 and 1896 by a developer, Matthew Kavanaugh, who lived on the same street.


Read more here about San Francisco’s Painted Ladies.

Alamo Square Victorian, San Francisco

Alamo Square Victorian, San Francisco

It was during San Francisco’s Gold Rush years and after, from 1849 to 1915, when this architectural style was prominent.


The 1906 earthquake destroyed many Victorian mansions built by the railroad, banking, and mining tycoons in the city. But rebuilding began soon after; and today, over a century later, a drive through the various neighborhoods reveals an eclectic mix of Victorians and modern architecture.


San Francisco

San Francisco

The Steiner Street “Painted Ladies” have gone through phases of color changes. Some years they were less colorful, like the years during the two world wars when they were painted battleship gray with war-surplus paint.


Other years, like the 1960s when psychedelia was popular, the power of color was applied. Today the houses on Steiner Street are somewhat subdued, reminiscent of the original colors in the 1900s.


Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Victorian houses

Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Victorian houses

While the famous houses on Steiner Street are attractive with the backdrop of the picturesque cityscape, there are approximately 48,000 such houses in the City by the Bay.


Click here for a list of Historic Places in San Francisco, it includes many of the Victorian houses.


I find the houses in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood especially colorful; no surprise, as that is one of the most historically colorful neighborhoods.


Haight-Ashbury house

Haight-Ashbury house

Today most of the houses are split into multiple units, occupied by renters and homeowners.


Some are really public, like the house that was featured in the popular 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire.  It recently sold for $4.15 million.

Victorian house used in filming Mrs. Doubtfire, Broadway and Steiner, SF. Courtesy internet.

There are Victorian House tours of all kinds, and tour books highlight neighborhoods you can walk through.


But beware, there are not many streets where the Victorians exist that the land is flat. It’s all steep hills. Really steep.


This city keeps you on your toes, literally.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified


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Lotta’s Fountain

Lotta's Fountain, SF

Lotta’s Fountain, SF

A 24-foot-high (7m) cast-iron sculpture sits solidly on a pedestrian island at a very busy intersection in San Francisco’s Financial District.


Every day thousands of San Franciscans rush past it. When I worked downtown I did too.


SF Mayor Ed Lee second from right

Lotta’s Ftn, SF Mayor Ed Lee second from right, 2014

But as the oldest surviving monument and meeting place for the 1906 earthquake survivors, Lotta’s Fountain is also appropriately honored. Not only is it Designated Landmark #73 and a National Historic Place, it is spiffed up and encircled with singing residents and politicians every April 18.


During the Gold Rush days of the 1850s, when San Francisco began its first growth spurt and law and order was not yet established, miners and other new arrivals to the city were a bawdy bunch.


Lotta Crabtree, for whom the fountain is named, gave this monument to San Francisco. It was 1875 and she was a famous vaudeville performer. With drunken miners throwing gold nuggets at her dancing feet, she had come upon a surplus of income.


As a gesture of thanks for the city that began her success, she gave this monument to the city.


Lotta's Ftn. detail

Lotta’s Ftn. detail

Years later, it not only survived the 1906 earthquake, but it became a meeting place for earthquake-devastated survivors to congregate. Soon thereafter residents met at the towering fountain every year, on the anniversary of the big earthquake.


They sang, and still sing, of the miraculous survival and spirit of its residents, in spite of the crushing loss of 3,000 people and 80% of the city.


Although I lived in San Francisco for 13 years, I never attended this celebration, chiefly because it occurs at 5 in the morning. Living in San Francisco, for many of us, has meant working long, hard hours to afford rent. So a 5 a.m. event before work was just never on my radar.


But in researching for my novel, I visited the celebration. And it was really fun. I wrote more about it in a previous post, Celebrating Survival in San Francisco. 


1906 EQ ceremony at Lotta's Fountain, 2014

1906 EQ ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain, 2014. Some celebrants attend in period costumes.

Read more about the fountain here.


There have also been numerous performances at Lotta’s Fountain; most notably Luisa Tetrazzini’s Christmas Eve concert in 1910.

Tetrazzini concert, 1910. Lotta’s Ftn. upper far left. Courtesy San Francisco Performing Arts

A legendary Italian opera soprano, Ms. Tetrazini sang her heart out to a wildly appreciative crowd of 250,000 people packing that same street corner…over a century ago.


We live busy lives and quickly scuttle past sculptures, memorials, and plaques every day. Stopping, in fact, can create a sidewalk hazard.


But when something in our periphery causes us to come out of our head and look up, it’s quite amazing what we can find.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

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China Camp

China Camp State Park, California.

China Camp State Park, California.

Named for the fishing villages that Cantonese families established here in the 1800s, China Camp is now a California State Park and a Historical Landmark.


Once a prime spot for harvesting shrimp, Chinese families lived busy lives here, and before that the Miwok Indians.


While there was much success and enterprise in the Chinese villages here in the late 1800s, harsh anti-Chinese laws put a strain on their life in the early 1900s, forcing most villagers to disperse.


Sampan, old Chinese shrimp-fishing boat

Sampan, old Chinese shrimp-fishing boat

The new century brought many more changes including polluted waters, loss of shrimp, and real estate development threats.


By the 1970s, Gulf Oil had big plans to build high-rise condominiums and commercial establishments.


But the residents of the surrounding area, San Rafael, California, with conservation groups and concerned citizens, protested. As a result, the land was sold to the state of California and a park was made.


In the early 21st century, when California had budget crises, there was more talk of closing the park. It was running on a deficit. But this too was resolved by the heroics of residents and community organizations, who formed nonprofits and raised funds, and saved the park.



Chinese characters: Wa Jen Ha Lio, the fishing village’s name

China Camp history and info here.


The park is 1,514 acres (613 ha) on a section of the San Francisco Bay. Little kids frolic on the shoreline, people jog and walk their dogs under the oak trees, picnic on the grass.


There is also hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, paddle boarding and other recreational activities. Gorgeous vistas across the bay, and a healthy list of birds, too.


Concession Stand (still open on weekends)

Concession Stand (still open on weekends)

The village buildings have been preserved, open to the public for viewing and educational touring.


Gentle volunteers run the gift shop selling t-shirts, and there’s an old-fashioned concession stand with a photo inside of John Wayne who filmed a movie here with Lauren Bacall (Blood Alley).


The beauty that is humans reaching out, making plans, and achieving their goals is here. There have been ups and downs for centuries here, subjugation and conflict, and I suppose there will be more too.


China Camp overview

China Camp overview

But for today, we breathe in the briny air and soak up the California sun.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander


Golden Gate GraveyardMy new book , available for purchase.

Click here to purchase paperback or digital version from publisher

Digital ebook also available on Amazon and other etailers (paperback version not yet available at these sites).