How to Piss Off a Hawk

hawk in las vegas

Photo by B.

Last night, as we headed out on our evening walk with Kolja, I just about tripped over a dark mass on a concrete paver in our back yard. On closer examination, I realized I was looking at feathers and feet and what would have been guts.

It was examine it further and puke or let it be and send B.  I opted for the latter.

B. got a flashlight, inspected the mess and suggested I got a shovel and a trash bag, because this was going to be a “two-people job.” Or we could wait for the gardener to take care of it, which sounded like a much better idea.

As I was finishing The Goldfinch this afternoon, I noticed something gliding by our window into our garden (don’t ask why I notice things like that while reading…). The wings seemed too big for our regular pigeons and robins. And there it was, on the branch of a pine. A hawk. In the middle of Las Vegas.

It ruffled its feathers and scratched an itch on his back with a mean beak. Then it took a launching position and torpedoed down to our iron fence next to where the feathered mass had been. He turned his head one way and then the other, and did a little sidestep dance with his yellow claws.

His prey was gone. Only a few dried up guts, that looked like worms, left.

He changed a vantage point one more time. Still nothing. He came down to the cement, looking for the decomposing flesh tenderized by a warm fall day.

B. said, “No dessert, huh?’

The hawk turned his head 180 degrees, gave us an evil eye and took off.


Doom on a Hot Summer Night

flyBefore going to Africa a few years ago, I had numerous concerns. Elephant foot disease. Sleeping sickness. Malaria. Diseases that haven’t yet been discovered.

We stocked up on drugs like we were going to war and were going to be miles away from any field hospital. I committed to wearing stockings, pants and long-sleeved shirts in any weather, even if it meant that my space-suit outfit turned into a sauna on most days. There were lots of things we couldn’t control but being bitten by a mosquito or a tsetse fly wasn’t going to be one of them.

On the flight over, I thought about how so much misfortune could come from something so tiny and how was it that we didn’t bring our own mosquito net.

When we got there, the first thing I noticed in our hotel room was an anti-mosquito aerosol called “Doom.” I thought the name was more than promising and insisted on turning our room into a gas chamber every night while we went to dinner. We’d come back to a faint smell of “Alpine meadows” and dead bodies on flat surfaces.

Then one day we came to a new national park with black and blue flags all around the hotel’s campus. It’s like someone was doing target practice, which after a story about a leopard that liked to drink from the hose at night somehow seemed fitting. It turned out that the flags were actually targets for tsetse flies. The cloth contained a chemical that tasted great but nixed reproduction. The flies didn’t know about it and enjoyed the feast and the fun.

But I wasn’t content with just waiting for them to go extinct. On a drive through the park one afternoon, I realized that our jeep was filled with tsetse flies, their stingers out like little swards. We’re not talking about the little, delicate looking organs of our normal house flies. Did you ever have to get your finger pricked for a blood test? If yes, do you remember the metal stabber with a sharp edge that the nurse had too much fun jamming into your fingertip? That’s what tsetse flies have. Steel stabbers connected to a deviant brain.

The second I realized what was going on, I grabbed a nylon binoculars case and became a woman on a mission. There was nothing I could do about the myriads of them circling around antelopes and water buffalos, but if they were in the jeep, they were fair game and would be smashed against the windows. I disposed of bodies by returning them back to their natural environment. At the end of the trip, our driver said that they might ban me from the national park for tipping the delicate environmental balance. But we didn’t get stung. And no sleeping sickness (well, napping is another issue).

Last night I was thinking about my obsession again as a lone mosquito buzzed around us in bed. We turned the light on and attempted to kill it because it was impossible to fall asleep with it going round and round like a little jet airplane. We knew that if it landed, it wouldn’t deliver malaria in its stinger and the most we could expect was a nasty welt.  What to do on hot summer night? Do you hide under a sheet and let it win or do you lay there exposed and commit to slapping your most tender parts? “B said. “Where’s Doom when you need it most.”

Nature Tuesday: Mr. Highness Makes His Move

catThe other day I woke up to a scream of frustration. It was coming from the hallway, where we have an ongoing tournament between B. and T. in half a dozen games, from backgammon to scrabble to blokus.

One of the games is this wooden contraption with a bunch of pegs arranged in a square and white and dark beads you are supposed to place on them to make a line. It doesn’t say on the bottom what it’s called and no one in our house seems to know.

Mr. Highness the cat watches the games with interest, I thought, because they are on the same counter as his food. For him it’s kind of like “dinner and a show.”

But then one night noticed him making his way across each game, carefully, on his soft cat paws, all the way until he got to the bead game. There, he laid down on an elevated vantage point, the position that placed his tail right next to the beads. Every few seconds, he’d lift the end of his tail, sending a bead or two off their pegs. Not sign of mischief crossed his whiskered face.

When he was done, he’d jump off the counter and go on about his day to admire his stomach or clean behind his ears.

Nature Tuesday: The Giraffe Kiss

A few years ago, I had a photo of a girl kissing with a giraffe as my wallpaper.

Then about two years after that when we were thinking about going to Africa, our travel agent Susan Weisberg suggested that we visited Karen Blixen’s Museum in Nairobi, Kenya, the historic home of the Danish of author of “Out of Africa.” Next to it is the Giraffe Center, home to several endangered Rothschild Giraffes. There are only a few hundred left in the world, mostly because their natural habitat is in Kenya and Uganda, and even though they are protected, conservation in volatile political environments is hard.

An easy way to tell them  the Rothschilds from other giraffes? They have no markings on their lower legs, making them look like they wear white stockings.

At the Center, there’s a special platform for getting close to giraffes and being at their eye level. But how do you get one to kiss you?

“Take a piece of giraffe food into your mouth,” suggested B.

“You mean you want me to taste their food?” I wasn’t convinced. Somehow the kiss itself didn’t seem gross but the dry food did.

“To him, it will be like getting fed from a hand,” B said.

I took a deep breath, placed the end of a dry giraffe pellet between by teeth, and made sure it stuck out far enough for the animal to be able to grab it. And stuck my head out.

Within seconds, the giraffe came up close and with its warm tongue, rough like sand paper, licked off the food and sent it right into its mouth. It felt more determined, practiced and also gentler than my first human kiss.

Afterwards, the giraffe didn’t go away and even let me pet its soft furry nose.

“Why did you close your eyes?” B. wanted to know.

“Because I always close my eyes when I kiss.”

giraffe kiss at karen blixen giraffe center nairobi kenya

Nature Tuesday: Three-Headed Giraffe


Three  headed giraffe Masai Mara KenyaThis is not PhotoShop: It’s an actual photo that Allen W. captured in Africa.

These giraffes were super curious, but being on the shy side, hesitant about “sticking their neck out too far.”

This is how it happened: Our guide in Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya had spotted a group of giraffes excited about something (aka a bunch of giraffe heads floating above the tree canopy) and turned off the dirt road onto the golden savanna grass to check it out.

“They are probably mating,” he said.

We got our camera ready, excited now too to see giraffes have sex.

When we got there, it turned out that a couple was indeed trying to accomplish that, which wasn’t not an easy fit when you have such long legs and a shifting center of gravity.

But that’s not what had captured their friends’ attention. Three men had gotten out of their truck and were trying to fix a water pipe.