"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

COVID Book Corner: FInd Me by Anne Frasier

 We have Amazon Prime. We sort of got it by accident. Bob wanted to get something shipped free so he signed up for a trial thinking he would cancel. Somehow he missed canceling and we ended up with Prime for a year. Now we are hooked. Not only are we getting free shipping but we've enjoyed several movies and I'm getting free books every month. We've made up for the enrollment fee.

Find Me was a free download a couple months ago and it took me a while to get around to it. I was still hooked by the Pitt series. It's written by Anne Frasier and I may be hooked in another author's work. It's a chilling story of a serial killer who baits a detective who has been researching his 30 year old killing spree because he has never revealed where the bodies were left. 

Add to the mystery to be solved the fact that the detective is convinced his mother was one of the victims The FBI profiler he works with is the daughter of the killer and was used when she was a child to lure the victims pretending to be lost. 

I think there are only two books in this series but it looks like she's written a lot more. Next time I need to look for a book I'll be searching her name. I liked her style of writing and storytelling.

Monday, September 21, 2020

COVID Book Corner: Anne Perry's Book Series

There are several authors I have been hooked by to read all the books in their series. The latest has been Anne Perry. She has several series--Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, Daniel Pitt (their son), and Thomas Monk. There are a couple of others with just two books and several stand alone books. She's been very prolific and is still writing at 81. 

There are 32 books in the first Pitt series that starts back in the late 1890s and goes into the early 1900s. Thomas Pitt starts out as a cop, then becomes a district supervisor and eventually heads the "secret service" of  early London. I thoroughly enjoyed her descriptions of life then and fashion and she weaves a great mystery. The novels aren't extremely long and during the early days of COVID when we were at the stay-at-home stage I devoured them quickly. There were no new TV shows and baseball didn't get started until July. I curled up in the recliner most evenings with my Kindle.

The Daniel Pitt series follows the one that features his parents. It is kind of a continuation but from a different perspective. It was actually the first book in this series that led me to seek out the others. Daniel is a barrister who becomes a friend of a woman who is trying to make a career of forensics when everything is going against her because she is a woman. It's an interesting look at the struggle for women's rights as well as courtroom drama and mystery.

I haven't started the Monk series yet so I don't know much about that one. It takes place in Victorian London and Monk is a detective who has somehow lost his memory and must try to recover who he is. With colder weather approaching, I'll save that series for when the fire is crackling and I can snuggle under a blanket with my reading.

As it stands in my over-all reading, I'm in book #47. This may be my most-read year ever. There have been some upsides to COVID.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Reminiscing: A Red Eyed Gull and More!

 [Nothing I love more than watching nature and the interaction of God's creatures.]

Friday morning of our week long cruise through the Galapagos Islands on the Celebrity Xpedition found us at South Plaza, a small uplifted island just off the northeast corner of Santa Cruz. The landscape was lush in comparison to some of the places we visited. A carpet of portulaca covered much of the rocky area away from the beach. The plant had cycled past its bloom time although as Monica told us, the iguana tend to eat the blooms as fast as they appear. The reddish colored stems that prevailed as the leaves faded made me think of the beautiful colors of the Alaskan tundra in the fall.

At our landing point, we noticed several Swallow Tailed Gulls that were nesting. Like the penguins of Antarctica, they made their nests with pebbles. Once again we were amazed that they were not flustered by our presence. As we wondered if there were any eggs in the nest, one female shifted slightly as if to answer our question and someone spotted an egg beneath her.

The Swallow Tailed Gull in addition to being a handsome bird with a bright red rimmed eye, is unusual in that it feeds at night. It is the only nocturnal gull in the world and feeds off of fish and squid near the surface of the water. 

Standing tall as if in an orchard were prickly pear cactus. Not too far from where we landed we stopped for a time to watch an iguana who had managed to claim one of the pears from a nearby cactus and was rolling it around to knock off the spines. Eventually she was able to get it into her mouth and just in time as another iguana discovered her and her prize and began to chase her. She managed to keep the pear and eventually the other retreated. We went on and left her to her breakfast treat.

The land iguana we found here were slightly different from those on the other islands. They were shedding their skins. Unlike a snake, the iguana shed in bits and pieces so a few of them looked a bit ragged. Monica mentioned an interesting phenomena that the naturalists and biologists have discovered. Some of the marine iguanas have mated on occasion (raped as Monica put it) with the land iguanas producing a type of hybrid. The hybrid never lives longer than four or five years so there are few to see.

As usual, we met up with several sea lions along the way We stopped to watch as one little guy came up from the water calling for his mother. He was hungry and wanted to nurse. Mom lifted her head a couple of times and uttered a sound. When the little one found her, she smelled him all over before she rolled to her side to let him nurse. No way was she going to do it for one who was not her own.

In the cliffs on one side of the island, we found a bachelor colony. We were all amazed that these creatures were able to climb up so high. There was a bit of a path but it was still quite steep and definitely slippery with the waves washing on shore.

On one of the rocks, the exoskeleton of a Sally Light Foot crab was left for us to examine. As the crabs grow, they need to shed their covering. They completely back out of the shell leaving it intact and moving on for a few days, vulnerable because the new shell is soft.

In the clefts of the high cliffs to the south side of the island we found scores of gulls and other sea birds. It was mesmerizing to see them in a flock skimming the ocean surface and rising up into the sky and back down again.

More of the Swallow Tail Gulls were nesting here and one had a young chick. The gulls only lay one egg when they mate. The young one we saw had a beautiful pattern of black and white feathers. It appeared that the mother might be showing it how to fly. She would spread her wings and then the little one would do the same. I don’t think he was quite big enough yet to go out on his own in the currents of wind that whipped up the cliff side.

Monica also pointed out to us a plant that had a wicked seed pod on it. The pod had several thorns growing out of it that she said could puncture a bicycle tire. One of the types of finches on the island though had a beak strong enough to break open the pod and retrieve the seed inside to eat.

Little land lizards scurried across the trail in front of us like little hyperactive puppy dogs. They would bounce up on a rock, look us over and then cross back to the other side and disappear. I guess this was a big day for them. The tourists were here! It only happens every couple of weeks or so. The government regulates visitors to the Galapagos park area so that no island is overrun with too many visitors and has time to recuperate between the visits of the small groups that are allowed the privilege to see this wonderful natural area.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Reminiscing: Snorkeling With The Galapagos Turtles

 [While I admit the sea lion snorkeling was more fun, this snorkel adventure was amazing as well.]

Dressed in dive skins and wetsuits, our snorkel gear gathered in our mesh bag, we boarded the zodiac for our deep water snorkel. It was a bit of a ride to the place where we were to snorkel and we bounced along at the front of the zodiac as it navigated the waves and wind coming directly at us. At least, I thought, it will be an easier ride back going with the waves as long as the wind doesn’t change direction.

 We had been warned that the water would be cold but nothing prepared me for the shock when mask and snorkel finally in place, I slid off the side of the zodiac and into the water. Our first deep water snorkel had been chilly. This one was down right cold.

It didn’t take long though to realize it was going to be oh, so worth it! The sea floor about eight to ten feet below us was carpeted in green—a perfect garden for sea turtles to munch on. Our snorkel guide shouted, “Ray! Ray!” and we all dunked our heads in the water to look in the direction he pointed.

A large blue gray sting ray glided swiftly along the rocks the edges of its body ruffling as though it were a gathered piece of trim on a skirt. It must have been about five feet across.

Lots of parrot fish chomped on the rocks munching on much of the greens that the turtles would enjoy as well. Big puffer fish flashed their large puppy dog eyes at us as they scurried past.

And of course there were the sea turtles. With the clear water and the sun shining down through the depths to highlight them, they were a spectacle to behold. Their shells gleamed in the sunlight and they exhibited amazing grace as they slowly glided through the water, stopping to sample the delicacies the sea garden had to offer.

Cold? No one noticed a whole lot until our zodiac pulled in closer to pick us up. Oh, yes, we thought, maybe we are cold but let us take one more look. This was a place we were not going to forget soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Reminiscing: So Many Iguanas! And They Sneeze!

 [While they have a face only a mother could love, they are amazing creatures the marine iguanas.]

Fernandina Island is the youngest and western-most of all the Galapagos Islands. It has also had the most recent volcanic eruption occurring in April of 2009. Earlier, in 1968, the caldera had sunk almost 1,000 feet but then the coast line at Espinoza Point was lifted some 9 feet just two years later.

We carefully climb off the zodiac. It may be classified a dry landing, but the tide is really low and the rocks are wet and mossy in places. Life jackets removed, cameras out, our fearless naturalist, Alexis, gets us all organized on a relatively dry spot before we look around. Suddenly he grabs his face with two hands (ala Home Alone) and yells, “Oh my gosh! There’s iguanas!” It’s his joke. We have seen so many iguanas now that every time we come upon another he makes the exclamation.

But here there really are a LOT of marine iguanas and the smell attests to the numbers. The shoreline was populated with hundreds if not thousands. They are so difficult to see with their black coloring against the black lava. With the low tide and the sun climbing, the excrement is fermenting. We pick our way carefully around iguanas which blend into the colors of the lava rock stopping to take photos of the absurd number of them gathered together here.

Occasionally we are startled by an iguana sneezing. They spend as long as 45 minutes underwater feeding on algae. The excess salt in their diet is sneezed out their noses. No snot. Just salty water. This morning the algae is exposed due to the low tide and several iguana are combing the rocks for their breakfast. There are many in the water swimming, using their tail as a crocodile or alligator does swishing it back and forth to propel themselves to the tasty algae morsels they seek.

While we saw some large iguanas, I don’t think we saw any that were a full four feet long which is the length they can reach when full grown. An amazing fact I find is that marine iguanas during a lean time with less food will not only get thinner but will shrink in length. 

Along side of a pile of bones, we stop for an excellent lecture on the skeletal structure of several marine animals including the backbone of a whale. After we’ve learned about which bone is connected to which bone and guess about where some of them came from, we move around a large area of soft sand where the iguanas lay their eggs. More iguanas? Will the island hold them all? It is said that there are about 200,000 to 300,000 in the islands and scientists have estimated that some concentrations of them could be about 4,500 per mile. 

We reach the other side of the lava where a beach area has been established with the breaking apart of the lava rock and the crushing of shells and urchins and I’m sure other things I didn’t recognize that contribute to the making of sand. Just a handful of it yields a host of different objects from the sea.
Suddenly someone shouts, “Snake!” I look quickly for the lady who has said she truly freaks out about snakes. I didn’t know there was someone worse than I am. But she is in another group not in ours. I stay a safe distance and take a couple of pictures but quit when my stomach begins to churn as one man lets the snake slither over his shoe.

To take my mind off the snake, I take more pictures of iguanas and driftwood and a couple of sea lions. 

As we make our way back toward our landing spot, we come across a Flightless Cormorant sitting on a nest.  It amazes me that she doesn’t flinch as we pass by so closely. I have learned that the Flightless Cormorant's wings are one third the size needed to fly. Still, it does quite well in the water feeding off of fish, eel, small octopus, and other small marine life. In between each venture into the sea, they have to dry their feathers and wings as they do not produce as much oil as other sea birds to to keep them afloat. They are the rarest of birds, only found in the Galapagos and their population is estimated at 1,500. 

Carefully we pick our way over the lava again and around the iguanas to get to our landing point. We don our life jackets again and ride to the Xpedition. The zodiac deposits us on the rear deck of the ship once more so we can don our wetsuits and snorkel gear for our deep water dive. We’ve been promised to swim with sea turtles. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Reminiscing: Galapagos Turtles and Land Iguana

 [Darwin did a lot of his work there in the Galapagos. How he could leave God out of the equation is beyond me.]

The afternoon on Isabela Island is spent at Urbina Bay. It is a wet landing this time where we take off shoes and sandals and slip over the side of the zodiac into the waters and onto the soft sand. We leave our snorkel equipment and wetsuits on the beach and follow our guide away from the beach to see what wildlife we can find on our short walk which should be about an hour to be followed by a snorkel in the waters off the beach.

Alexis points out the trails left in the tall grass and undergrowth by the large tortoises or land turtles. While we stand to listen, a flock of finches lands nearby. When Darwin explored the Galapagos, he found somewhere between 13-15 different kinds of finches which he studied from samples he collected. It was his opinion and part of his Origin of the Species work that the finches had adapted to the area and the change in the beaks of the finches were the proof. I prefer to think that a Creator made the beaks that way so that they would survive in the environment in which he placed them.

A few steps more and we find our first land turtle. It is sheltering under some bushes but sticks its head out to see what the commotion is on the trail. This one is apparently a female judging by the smaller size. The giant tortoises are probably the most famous of the inhabitants of the Galapagos. There are eleven subspecies that exist among the islands. They can live well past 100 years and weigh up to 500 pounds. 

We stop by a tree to learn that it is a dangerous botanical specimen—a poison apple tree. Alexis warns us that its leaves can cause us a great deal of irritation should we brush by it and for some people who might be allergic, it can be more serious. There are little fruit on it that appear to be small apples but they are toxic to humans. I avoid it as I do poison ivy.

Suddenly someone shouts out and points to the path ahead. In the middle of it sits a large colorful land iguana. Its orange and yellow markings almost blend into the color of the sandy path. We approach slowly trying not to intimidate it not because it is dangerous but because all of the photographers in the group want a chance to get their pictures before it moves off.

Their are two species of land iguanas on the islands. They can grow to around 3 feet in length. The land iguanas live in the drier areas of the islands getting the needed moisture to survive from eating succulent plants such as cactus. They have a peculiar interaction with Darwin finches. Apparently they raise their bodies off the ground and let the finches pick off the ticks on their bodies.

The land iguana reaches maturity at 8-15 years and the female lays between 2-25 eggs in a burrowed nest in sandy soil. The eggs take 3-4 months to hatch at which time the little ones are responsible for digging themselves out. If they survive being exposed to the harsh dry environment and the predators, they can live up to 50 years. 

The male iguana we see is very accommodating. He sits long enough on the path and then along the side of the walk in the foliage for all of us to get some good shots. 

Further on, we find another female turtle nestled into a comfy hole she’s made. They often do this at night to conserve body heat. The females will travel long distances (in tortoise miles) to find a nesting spot in sandy soil when it is time to lay eggs. She lays between 2-16 eggs the size of tennis balls (ouch!). As with the iguana, the finches are also a means to rid the tortoises of insects.

The tortoises were pillaged during the 1600s by pirates and later whalers as a food source. They could take them on board the ship and they would survive for a long time without food and water making them a fresh source of food for the mariners. It greatly reduced their number as did the eventual settlers of the islands who unwittingly brought predators to the islands. Dogs, cats, etc. fed on the tortoise eggs or ruined nests. That's why there are so many restrictions now in the national park--to conserve these magnificent and unusual creatures.

A large meadow area contains several land turtles and orange land iguanas both. While we watch them moving about, I notice that the large bush next to me is busy with the wasps we’ve been warned about. For several planned landings we have been asked not to wear anything brightly colored as it tends to attract the wasps. One man in our group was stung—not a bad sting, painful but unless you are allergic, harmless. The naturalists all carry epi pens just in case.

We find several painted locusts which look like large colorful grasshoppers. They belong to the same group as locusts, katydids, and grasshoppers. There are 21 different kinds in the Galapagos.

More tortoises are sighted along the way back to the beach and another land iguana close enough to make the photographers’ hearts pitter patter. While Alexis explains how important poop is in tracking the iguanas and knowing where they are migrating or living, I snap this friendly guy as he’s enjoying his afternoon snack. Or perhaps it’s an early dinner?

Our short walk has been so fascinating that we have stayed too long to feel comfortable getting into wetsuits for such a short snorkel in waters that are already being shaded from the sun as it lowers into the horizon. We opt to get on the next zodiac and enjoy our stateroom’s shower instead and our own slide show of the day’s pictures.
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