What’s Gnu with You?

I knew from solving crossword puzzles that wildebeest are also known as gnu. What I didn’t know is that a herd of wildebeest is known as a confusion. I’m not certain whether that is because it looks like mass chaos when they migrate in huge bunches, or because wildebeest look like a conglomeration of an ox head, a horse mane, and buffalo horns. Another term is “implausibility,” perhaps for the same reasons.

Wildebeest are included in the safari “Ugly Five” list. I personally think they look more interesting than ugly, unless you’re looking at this bull with a broken horn and grizzled ear.

This wildebeest was the only birth we witnessed during our safari.

Calves are up on their feet almost immediately after birth.

Wildebeest are very protective of their calves. Hyenas, lions, cheetahs and African wild dogs prey on wildebeest. The calf on the right is the same one as the prior two photos.

Is this a confusion? An implausibility?

Perhaps a dazzling confusion? A confusing dazzle?

The wildebeest led the way across the water, paving the way for their zebra compadres.

Dazzled by Zebra

A herd of zebras is called a dazzle – one of the most descriptive group names I have ever heard. Aren’t they dazzling? I am excited that one of them is looking directly at the camera.

Zebra and wildebeest hang out and travel together. Wildebeest have better hearing and zebra have better sight so they can work together to warn of impending danger.

Also zebra eat tall grass while wildebeest eat shorter grass so they are not competing for food.

These two young male zebras are competing for the attention of the young female. This skirmish went on for quite a while up and down the lakefront.

Zebras seem to enjoy turning their backs to people. I’ve noticed this at zoos as well as in the wild. Sometimes you just have to make the most out of circumstances.

This lovely young zebra was kind enough to be cooperative.

We encountered a herd of zebra and wildebeest crossing a body of water. I wish the water had been clear enough for reflections.

An entirely separate zebra skirmish. Boys will be boys.

A classic zebra portrait, complete with swishing tail.

It’s hard to pick a favorite zebra shot, but I do like this restful scene complete with a flock of flamingoes.

What next? I’ll make a decision after my Photo Club presentation tomorrow evening.

Tons of Elephants

Today is World Elephant Day. Six months ago I was actually in Tanzania seeing elephants in person, so there’s no better time to post about the tons and tons and tons of elephants that I saw. I am working on a presentation for Photo Club a little later this month, so I have been diligently perusing the thousands of shots I took.

The very first game drive photo I took on safari last February was of an elephant, notably with my own camera and lens rather than the top-of-the-line equipment I borrowed from Canon. One of the first admonitions from photography pro Jeff Cable was not to neglect wide angle shots. I did my best to follow that advice every day.

There are an estimated 3,000 elephants living in Tangire National Park, and I think we saw every single one of them. Mike G of M&M Photo Tours told us that his first safari group saw only six elephants. Our group was much more fortunate; sometimes we were surrounded by elephants on all sides as far as the eye could see. I wish I had a good wide-angle shot with a huge group of elephants, but my tendency seems to be to focus on smaller groups such as this one, with elephants spanning a range of ages. By the way, a herd of elephants is known as a memory.

The lighting was not always ideal, but we had many opportunities to shoot iconic elephant shots such as this one slowly lumbering along with ears fanned.

Elephants love water. I particularly like this shot because it caught water movement in two different places.

The elephants had no fear of our safari vehicles and would cross the road in close proximity to our great delight.

Some of the elephants coated themselves in clay dust to help themselves stay cooler. Or perhaps just to become a redhead.

Here’s a little guy doing the same thing:

One of the benefits of seeing so many elephants was the opportunity to watch for different types of shots, such as these these elephants that almost seem to have choreographed their walk.

One phenomenon I noticed in Africa is the number of times that animals turn their backs to humans. Sometimes you just have to seize the opportunity for a rear view.

Some elephants do cute things with their trunks, like this one curling it around its tusk.

Or this elephant enjoying a snack:

One evening we came across a small memory of elephants in lovely evening light as we returned to camp.

These adolescent bull elephants treated us to an extended skirmish. This is my favorite elephant shot of the safari.

I probably have sufficient elephant photos for another weblog post or two, but first I plan to feature some other animals. Stay tuned!

Big Cat Country

I was intending to launch my Africa series today, but something came up that has been demanding my attention for the past few days.

A little more than a week ago I volunteered to foster kittens for the animal shelter. Last Tuesday, I was offered a pair of adorable kitty brothers who just needed to gain weight before being neutered and offered for adoption. Over lunch Wednesday, I picked them up.

Meet Siegfried (left) and Tristan.

One of the perks of fostering is the privilege of naming the kittens. This is not an obligation if the foster parent is afraid of becoming too attached, but I see it as an honor. I chose to name my first set of boys after the Farnon brothers in James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series.

As in the books, Tristan is the more sociable of the two. He is the first to greet me after a separation, the first to crawl into my lap purring, the one to try to get into my glass of wine. Even as I write this post, he is jumping on the keyboard to help.

Tiny but fearless.

Siegfried is a bit more reticent and studies each situation before leaping in. It took a few days for him to start purring; I think that’s an indication that it may take a little while to gain his loyalty, but once earned it will last forever.

Studying the lay of the land.

I think these pretty boys may have Siamese or Himalayan in their background giving them their lovely seal ears and the blue eyes that I hope they keep. Siegfried is fluffy, like a Himalayan, and very photogenic. Tristan has tabby markings as well as a ringed tail, like a raccoon.

I think I am going to love fostering. We’ll have adorable kittens in the house as often as we like, have the flexibility not to foster when we wish to travel, and with any luck never have to deal with them dying. I do envy the family or families that end up with Sieg and Tris; I am also honored to have a part in getting them ready for their next adventure.

Overwhelmed

Visiting Africa was a wonderful experience, one that I am eager to share with family and friends. While I was away, I nurtured the lovely notion of publishing a weblog post every week after returning home. In fact, I still have a handwritten list of title ideas jotted down during the 8-hour flight from Amsterdam back to the United States.

Thus it came as a bit of a shock to realize that it is already ten weeks post-safari. It sure doesn’t seem like that long, but the calendar doesn’t lie. It’s definitely time to own up to my procrastination. I am going to give a Reader’s Digest condensed version of why I haven’t jumped right in to posting. Read on if you’re interested – if not, check back next Monday for my first official safari post.

Coming home to a crazy winter storm (I wasn’t sure for a while if I was going to be able to fly into Kansas City that night), I learned that my mother-in-law was no longer mobile and had entered hospice care. With carefully orchestrated hospice and home health agency visits, Phil and I hope to be able to honor her wish to remain at home.

The following day I was reunited with my beloved kitty, Moses. Several months earlier he had been diagnosed with kidney failure, and his medical treatment meant it would be best to board him while I was away. Skeeter appeared to be stable during his stay at the vet clinic, and we enjoyed a week where he seemed back on the road to his old playful self, cuddling and wanting to go outside for short periods. Then he suddenly stopped eating, and despite increased subcutaneous fluids and appetite stimulating medication, went into a rapid decline. We made the heartbreaking decision to put my darling boy to sleep February 28.

Skeeter’s paw print impression,
made the day he went to kitty heaven.

Two weeks later, Phil came home from work to find Daisy in what appeared to be a post-seizure state. Usually she will stagger outside afterward to take care of business. This time, she was unable even to get up. Our vet was fortunately on call, and generously made a house call when she hadn’t recovered after several hours. Daisy’s age and epilepsy complicated diagnosis, but it was clearly some type of neurological event. Basically, time would tell whether she would recover, and how much. We spent the weekend keeping her as comfortable as possible and carrying her outside to try (unsuccessfully) to take care of potty business. At the point when we began to despair of losing two pets in under a month, Daisy began taking a few faltering steps. Then she peed outside! Each day is a little better than the day before. Now she can get around fairly well, although it’s sometimes difficult for her to get up by herself and occasionally she trips over nothing and takes a face-plant on the sidewalk. It’s terrible, but we laugh, mainly with relief that our sweet Princess Crazy Daisy is still with us.

The face of trust and love.

Many of you know that I work at my church. (One of my safari nicknames was “Church Lady” – and I may or may not share an anecdote or two concerning that in the future.) Just as I was leaving for Africa, we welcomed a new senior pastor, also my direct supervisor. Upon my return we reformatted the weekly bulletin, began working toward an electronic version of the monthly newsletter, and my website volunteer resigned. I also immersed myself in learning a new program for service slides. For a normal week there will be two slide sets and one bulletin. During Lent, that increases to three slide sets and two bulletins. During Holy Week: six slide sets and four bulletins. Yeah, it’s been crazy busy.

It’s not my intention to whine, make excuses, or solicit sympathy; I’m just outlining what I have allowed to demand my attention lately in an effort to shake off the lassitude. Life is life and we are all constantly evolving toward a new normal.

Which brings me to fess up to my biggest obstacle to timely posting – the sheer number of images I brought home from Africa. All told, more than 8,000 pictures over twelve days of shooting – not including the ones that I deleted in-camera before being scolded out of that bad habit. Some of them are easy to discard – out of focus, bad lighting, missed action. For others, though, it takes sorting through dozens of similar shots to pick the one that is just right. And sometimes a so-so picture needs just a little tweaking or cropping to become “the one.” As great a tool as PhotoShop is, it can all too easily become a time vacuum.

That said, there comes a time to kick inertia in its passive rear end and just get on with it. Plus writing is generally very therapeutic for me. So I am returning to my self-imposed yet long-ignored weekly deadline for new posts until I have exhausted my list of ideas inspired while watching The Lion King on Delta Flight 161. Monday mornings, here we come.

Sclerals on Safari

I recently participated in a two-week photo tour in Tanzania. This is something I have wanted to do for several years, and I had no intention of allowing high-maintenance eye care to keep me from achieving that goal.

Image courtesy of Jeff Cable www.jeffcable.com

I have traveled overseas with scleral lenses successfully in the past, most recently on a hiking trip in England, but Africa is another matter. I asked M&M Photo Tours to find out about the availability of ClearCare in Tanzania, but as I suspected, it is not readily available. I also considered buying plain hydrogen peroxide, but a Google search turned up evidence that the purity in Tanzania is not to the same standard as in the US, so I quickly discarded that plan.

Next, I thought I would carry on a travel size bottle of UniquePH and a couple of ClearCare, and alternate between the two. However an e-mail exchange with Dr. G (the developer of LaserFit lenses) along with input from the My Big Fat Scleral Lens Facebook group caused me to rethink that approach in favor of packing additional ClearCare in a checked bag.

This is my final packing list, in addition to the LaserFit lenses and progressive reading glasses (no distance correction) that I usually wear:

  • LaserFit contact lenses – 2 backup pairs in carry-on
  • Prescription glasses, in carry-on
  • Ziena moisture chamber glasses fitted with progressive reading lenses (no distance correction), in carry-on
  • Quartz silicon shield, in carry-on
  • ClearCare – 2x 3-oz in carry-on, 2x 12-oz in checked bag
  • Saline for Sensitive Eyes (Target brand) – 12-oz in checked bag
  • 15ml Modudose sterile saline – 16 vials in carry-on, 6 in checked bag
  • 5ml Modudose sterile saline – 16 vials in carry-on, 16 in checked bag
  • Theratears Nighttime Liquid Gel – 16 vials in carry-on, 8 in checked bag
  • UniquePH – 2-oz in carry-on
  • LoBob ESC cleaner – travel size, in carry-on
  • Muro128 – 1 tube in carry-on, 1 tube in checked bag
  • Refresh PM – 1 tube in carry-on
  • Cleaning sponges – 6 cut into 24 quarters, in carry-on
  • Ocusoft hand soap – 1-oz travel size, in carry-on
  • Sink catch mat – in carry-on
  • Travel size cotton swabs – 1 in carry-on, 1 in checked bag
  • Alcohol prep pads – some in carry-on, some in checked bag
  • Prose Disinfection case – 2x in carry-on
  • Small contact lens case – 2x in carry-on
  • DMV vented scleral cup – in carry=on
  • DMV ultra remover – in carry-on

I always carry an emergency scleral kit that contains a small contact case, a mirror, a few 5ml Modudose vials, a Theratears liquid gel vial, a tube of Muro128, a DMV vented scleral cup and ultra remover, and some cotton swabs. This was also in my carry-on.

That’s a lot of stuff, but as any photographer will tell you, it’s all in the optics – and that includes eyesight, my friends, And thus, I overpacked.

I have flown several times, including overseas, with scleral lenses. I pack two quart bags, one with my regular fluids and one marked “Medical Fluids,” and previously was never questioned. This time, a TSA agent at Kansas City International Airport stopped me to say that I was over my allocation. I explained that one of the bags was for medical purposes, but she remained steadfast. I then offered to show her a letter from my doctor, but before I was able to get it out, a supervisor came over and waved me through, explaining that the excess fluids were clearly medically necessary and all under 3.4 ounces. Disaster averted! In retrospect, I could probably have avoided the situation by putting each bag in a separate bin. It’s always a good idea to have a letter from your doctor listing medications and the need for extra fluids.

Part of my preparation for the trip was to plan scleral wear time during travel. I made a matrix with columns for home time and time at each intermediate stop before Kilimanjaro. I knew that I had 3-4 hour layovers at Minneapolis-St. Paul and Amsterdam, that I would have two 8-hour flights, and would be arriving at Kilimanjaro at night. I prefer not to insert or remove my contacts during flight, and I hoped to get a head start on adjusting my sleep schedule to Africa time. I also don’t want to go over 16 hours of wear time. Taking all of that into consideration, I determined that the best schedule on the way there was to wear them on the flight from Kansas City to Minneapolis, take them out just before boarding the flight to Amsterdam (and try to sleep on that flight), put them in upon arrival in Amsterdam, and remove them after arrival at the lodge in Tanzania.

Sound complicated? Welcome to the new normal for scleral lens patients.

The plan worked great, although the Amsterdam airport had some interesting sinks with footlong drains offering ample opportunity to lose a lens. I solved that problem by pulling out a small quick dry towel that I keep in my camera bag and using it to cover the drain while I inserted my lenses. I was a bit self-conscious about the amount of time and space I needed for all of my lens paraphernalia, but I did what I needed to do. During transit I disinfect with UniquePH rather than ClearCare so that spillage is not an issue.

Another small glitch came when I opened my suitcase at the first lodge and the first couple of layers of clothing in my checked bag were damp. The bottles of ClearCare and saline were intact, so some must have leached out. (I think it was likely the saline since none of the clothing showed signs of bleaching.) The clothing was all quick dry and all was fine by morning. However for the rest of the trip, I stowed all of my larger bottles of solution in a JetBag that I had brought with me. These bags are designed to absorb 750ml of liquid in case a bottle of wine breaks in a checked bag. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this to begin with, but it is my takeaway travel tip for this trip.

All of my compulsive planning and supply redundancy proved invaluable during the actual safari. Game drives are extremely dusty. The Ziena moisture chamber glasses, which I am wearing in the photo above, worked perfectly to keep as much dust as possible away from my scleral lenses. I had them fitted with progressive reading lenses (no distance correction) so that I could easily see the settings on my camera. At night I used Muro128 to lubricate my left eye, which does not blink fully or produce tears. I took along a Quartz silicon shield in case I should need it, but never wore it.

There were two days when I wore each of the three pairs of LaserFit lenses. I established a rule that I would never reinsert lenses until they had been disinfected. One particularly dusty morning, I changed lenses when we returned to camp at noon, and again when I took a shower before dinner. I make it a practice never to wear my lenses in the shower, and in Africa that is an even more important safety rule. So one evening when I forgot and took a shower with the second set in, I immediately removed them for disinfection. It would have been possible to travel with one or two sets of lenses, but I was glad to have taken three.

I ended up using one 12-oz and one 3-oz bottle of ClearCare solution, and the 12-oz bottle of saline (for rinsing) during the trip. Each day I rinsed my disinfected lenses in the neutralized ClearCare solution, then used one 15ml Modudose vial and one Theratears vial for insertion, plus a 5ml Modudose vial if I needed to squeegee my left lens. I immediately discarded any unused solution in the vials, and used a fresh quarter of a cleaning sponge every time I cleaned my lenses.

On the trip home, we left Kilimanjaro on a late evening flight, so I had already removed my lenses. I reinserted them in Amsterdam (again utilizing my quick dry towel to cover the massive drain), and removed them in Minneapolis before my final flight to Kansas City. I was fortunate enough to be a guest in a Delta lounge, so the bathroom situation was much better.

It takes a lot of foresight and planning to travel with scleral lenses, but they needn’t keep us from pursuing our goals. I think the only thing I would have done differently – besides packing my checked fluids in a JetBag – is to forego the 12-oz bottle of saline and 15ml Modudose vials in favor of 5ml vials. They come in connected sets of four flat vials that are easy to pack, and I always ended up discarding extra fluid in the 15ml vials. I think a four-pack per day plus a few extra for insurance would have been sufficient.

So there you have it – sclerals on safari! Now to begin planning for my next big travel adventure.

Limerick to a Black Cat

In honor of Black Cat Appreciation Day 2018, a poem dedicated to Moses:

There once was a stray black kitty
Taken in by a family in Jeff City.
.    But Skeeter’s annoyed
.    He was not renamed Floyd,
Because, for a boy, he’s quite pretty.

Update: sadly, a few months after this piece was published, our beautiful Skeeter Bug passed away from kidney failure. He was the best cat ever and is sorely missed each and every day.

T(anzania) – 6 months

 

This morning, I realized that it is six months to the day until I leave for Tanzania. February 1 still seems like a long way off, yet I also feel as if I don’t have nearly long enough to prepare. One of my major goals for the trip is to come home with some amazing shots of my “spirit animal.”

Years ago, when one of my grade-school teachers asked, “If you were an animal, what would you be?” several members of my class piped up with “giraffe” before I had a chance to answer for myself. Even back in the day I was tall, quiet, and awkward. I was fine with the comparison; it certainly wasn’t the meanest one they could have picked. Next trip to the school library, I checked out a book about giraffes and a lifelong interest was kindled.

I read once that this same question is popular during job interviews. I have never been asked, though, which I find unfortunate. Among the myriad of intelligent yet social dolphins, go-for-the-jugular jaguars, and sly foxes out there, a gentle giraffe would be a refreshing change of pace, and not merely because as an adult I am roughly the same size as a newborn giraffe.

Here are my favorite traits of this venerable animal:

  • Giraffes work together as a team to solve problems and accomplish goals, with no jockeying for leadership
  • When a goal seems out of reach, the giraffe strives to reach higher (see picture above)
  • Giraffes are non-predatory, but utilize a strong defensive kick when threatened

These are praiseworthy characteristics in life as well as in the workforce. I also like that giraffes have huge hearts, and that while they may initially appear gangly, there is actually an ambling grace to their movements.

I keep a giraffe figurine on my desk for motivation. When six months seems interminably long, it helps to imagine for a moment I am already in Africa. When I worry about not having enough time to prepare, it helps to remember that as long as I keep reaching, seemingly insurmountable goals become achievable.