Category Archives: Critters

Hurricane Harvey: A Truly Epic Storm

A blog follower from India asked what’s happening with the rain in America, so I thought maybe this would be a good day to share what’s going on with Hurricane Harvey. So far, it’s the biggest rainstorm in continental U.S. history, and it’s still raining, so we have no clue what’s yet to come. Hurricane Harvey started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa on August 13, 2017, made landfall on August 26 at Rockport, Texas as a Class 4 hurricane, went back out to sea and has returned again this morning. Hurricane Harvey has unleashed over 50 inches of rain east of Houston, and it’s still raining this morning.  The record so far is 51.9 inches near Mont Belvieu, TX  (40 miles east of Houston). The downpour also caused one key reservoir to spill over, which has led to the largest flood in Houston’s history. Although isolated areas of Hawaii have had more rain, the overall effect of Harvey has had no rivals in American history, dropping about 3 feet of rain over most of the Houston region—some estimated 9 trillion gallons of water!— which affects more than five million people. According to the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin, the probability for such a storm is about one per thousand years! Last Sunday morning, the National Weather Service tweeted: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.”

One problem that’s gaining attention concerns the wildlife, which are swirling in the floods. There are hundreds of thousands of American alligators in Texas (some seen have been up to 8 feet long), 23 species of snakes (all of which can swim, but only 5 of which are poisonous), and billions of invasive fire ants (who are the ultimate survivors, because they band together by the thousands to produce massive flotillas up to several feet across). In addition, there are all the usual wildlife common throughout America, such as deer and coons, that haven’t been able to flag down a Noah’s ark for rescue and are trying to find safety. For example, under the Waugh Bridge near downtown Houston, a colony of 300,000 free-tailed bats have lost their home in the surging waters.

Of course, the most pressing issue is saving human lives. Fire fighters from around the country are arriving to help, and even civilians who own pleasure boats are coming to aid in the rescue efforts. I saw an interview of one man who said “I got tired of watching it from the comfort of my own home” and decided to help. He had rescued over 2 dozen victims last night and this morning. The death toll has confirmed 30 dead, but untold numbers are missing. One center was trying to prepare dry clothing and food for 5,000, but so far over 8,600 have come for help.

In the midst of all the horror and grief, there have been some bright spots. Several news reporters pointed out that people were responding with compassion towards everyone…regardless of race…no questions asked about creed! One man pointed out that the heart of America doesn’t come out “when there are pitched political shows, we see the heart and the true nature of our country when you have a tragedy strike like this. Everybody wants to help.” Praise God for that mercy!

However, the tragedy is still very much in the making. Harvey’s path inland is producing some bleak predictions for Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and even into the Ohio River Valley. Please stay tuned, and thank you to all who are helping and praying. The estimates of economic damages are up to 50+ billion dollars, and I’ve noticed that charities such as Samaritan’s Purse are accepting gifts as they try to respond to the crisis.

Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

 

A Whale Tale from Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

whale-tail-by-michaelLast week I shared 20+ of my favorite photos from the Na Pali Coast, but today
I want to share my whale tale (although this tail was taken by my son, Mike). scanning-the-sea-for-whales-na-pali-coast-kauai       Every time we go to Hawaii, I scan the sea for signs of whales, adventure-rafting-na-pali-coast-kauai     and I’ve always wanted to go whale watching, quiet-na-pali-coast-kauaibecause from the shoreline, the whales are usually way out in the distance
and all you can see is s puff of spray to let you know they’re there.sailboats-heading-to-na-pali-coast-kauaiWhile on the Blue Dolphin Charter tour up Kauai’s Na Pali coast,
we saw tons of whales. beach-along-na-pali-coast-kauaiLiterally! humpback-whale-starts-to-dive-napali-coast-kauaiWell, we saw 12-20, but an adult whale is 39-52 feet long and weighs about 79,000 pounds, so each whale we saw was up to 40 tons of whale, right?  🙂  na-pali-coastline-and-mountainsOur captain pointed out that the humpback whales in the Pacific
are really Hawaiian citizens, na-pali-coast-jagged-mountains-kauaisince they give birth here and just migrate north
(about 8,000 miles to Alaska or other Arctic waters) for the summers. magnificent-na-pali-coast-kauaiAfter the mother gives birth, she feeds her calf milk,
and he can gain up to 150-180 pounds each day. sun-streaming-down-on-na-palis-rugged-coast-kauaiI can’t even imagine that much growth, can you? adventure-boat-plying-waters-along-na-pali-coastAlthough boats aren’t allowed to come within 130 yards of a whale, looking-south-along-na-pali-coast-kauaiwhales aren’t held to the same high standard,
and if they want to come close to explore, they will. mother-and-calf-whales-emerging-next-to-our-blue-dolphin-ii-charterOn our trip, a whale and her calf surfaced within 15 yards of our boat (closest siting the Blue Dolphin II had seen all year). whale-diving-napali-coast-kauaiOf course, it all happened so fast that it was hard to get in position and focused at the right place and the right moment, whale-surfacing-na-pali-coast-hawaiibut I was able to snap a few photos before they breached and dived. whale-submerging-hawaiis-na-pali-coastI’ve had a lot of fun thinking about spiritual parallels since.

                                                 Here are a few thoughts:humpback-whale-by-blue-dolphin-charter-catamaran-kauai*Jesus came to earth (“Alaska’s frozen shores”…no offense, Alaskans. Alaska is also beautiful, just like this earth, but it’s cold compared to Hawaii!), but He was from heaven (Hawaiian/heavenly citizenship) and returned to heaven. Believers also have a heavenly citizenship due to our spiritual birth and will join him in heaven again. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV).  mother-and-baby-humpback-whales-kauai*Jesus was the ultimate whale calf. He knew the scripture. He not only absorbed the scripture, He was the Word made flesh. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father),  full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).whale-in-pacific-ocean-kauais-napali-coast*We can become spiritual giants  (like the humpback whales) too, if we’ll only drink in the Word. Humpbacks grow for 10 years. Have you stopped feeding on the Word? We can grow our entire lives if we will! “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing” (Psalm  92:14).  whale-blowing-blue-dolphin-charters*Just like the whales in the sea, Jesus is always there whether or not He’s obvious. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).  whale-tail-blue-dolphin-charter-catamaran-napali-coastjpg*We strain our eyes to catch a glimpse, but we don’t often see Him close up! “Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:7-9). humpback-whale-emerges-right-by-our-ship-kauai*But, sometimes He appears right beside us, and when He does, what a thrill! Those wonderful spiritual experiences remain with us throughout our lives. Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar” (Isaiah 33:17).end-of-napali-coast

 

 

Are You Sitting on the Fence?

baboons-along-chapmans-highway-south-africa“Stop! Please!” Everybody wanted our bus driver to pull over so we could take photos of a troop of baboons traveling down the road beside us in South Africa.baboon-mothers-and-babies-along-the-side-of-the-road-in-south-africaWe were totally charmed by the mother baboons with their playful babies climbing all over them, but our guide was more enamored with four baboons who were perched on top of the fence poles, something he’d never seen before.baboons-on-posts-at-cape-of-good-hope-nature-reserve Apparently the fence was to protect the wildlife in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Preserve and give them a safe place of refuge. However, the curious baboons preferred roaming everywhere, despite the dangers on the highway, and four of them appeared to be contemplating whether or not to return home or just sit and survey the landscape. I wondered what they were thinking. Were they looking for predators, or trying to decide if they really wanted to go back inside the fence? baboon-contemplating-the-cape-of-good-hope-nature-preserve-south-africaHere it is January 3, 2017, and I find myself sitting on the fence, so to speak, contemplating the landscape. I still haven’t finished working out my New Year’s Resolution Reclamation Act. I’m pretty sure there’s a certain fear of failure. I may not be on the lookout for whatever harasses baboons, but I’m definitely thinking about how to negotiate all the challenges I see in front of me. baboon-sitting-on-highway-in-union-of-south-africa     Nevertheless, I’m quite sure sitting in the middle of the road isn’t safe, baboon-on-a-post-in-south-africa-oct-28-16                          and sitting on the fence will get me nowhere fast, mother-baboon-and-baby-on-chapman-highway-south-africaso I’m going to get back inside my wildlife refuge and take up the challenges God has for me there. How about you? Ready for the challenges of 2017?  chapmans-peak-drive-south-africaGod is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea…atlantic-coast-south-of-cape-town-south-africaBe still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:1-2,10-11). chapmans-peak-drive-cape-town-s-a-atlantic-coast(All photos were taken along Chapman’s Peak Drive, south of Cape Town, South Africa, on our recent tour.)

 

Swimming with Penguins, Anyone?

penguin-colony-and-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa                   Penguins are nothing short of adorable in any context. swimming-with-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaWe have some at our local zoo, but it was a unique treat to visit the Boulders Beach colony near Simonstown, South Africa, which is the only place in the world where you’re allowed to swim with these perky little playmates. swimming-at-boulders-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaActually, it was November when we toured, and our group wasn’t allotted time to swim, but the beaches—with their warm sand and turquoise waters—looked irresistibly inviting. close-up-of-an-african-penguin-at-boulders-south-africaPenguins have razor-sharp beaks, however, so despite their appeal, one should keep a respectable distance from their acrobatic antics. kathi-on-boardwalk-with-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa        We visited Foxy Beach, perhaps Africa’s best site for viewing penguins.raised-walkways-through-foxy-beach-african-penguinsIt has raised boardwalks through one of only two nesting sites in South Africa,granite-boulders-and-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa where about 3,000 happy little fellows spend their days sunning on the granite boulders and cavorting in the deep blue sea in search of tasty treats like fish.african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaIn the nineteenth century, there were over three million African penguins, but today there are less than 100,000 penguins left world-wide, and penguins are protected.  information-on-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaAfrican penguins are just under 20 inches tall and weigh about 4.5-8 pounds, about 100 pounds less than the ostriches that roam nearby. Still, they are bigger than the average bird, and their bones are heavier, making them great divers. They’ve been known to go as deep as 115 feet underwater, hold their breath for 1.5 minutes, and zip along at nearly 15 miles per hour, so in the bird world, they don’t have to be early or resort to catching worms to be a success!gorgeous-scenery-at-foxy-beach-boulders-penguin-colony-of-african-penguinsThey dress in tuxedos and dine on seafood at waterfront resorts. Very classy, don’t you think? 🙂 I’ve read that penguins usually live 11-12 years, but some have been known to live almost twice as long. african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa-cute-coupleThey are practically obsessed with finding their way home for nesting (even climbing over fences, which is a trick for these flightless birds) and normally mate for life. They share parenting duties, are social, mild-mannered, and multiply rapidly if protected. (Sound like ideal children to anyone?!)african-penguin-couple-at-boulders-south-africaUnfortunately, they are not always protected, and they don’t always make wise choices. One of the biggest problems at Boulders is that the penguins like to stand in front of warm cars, and several have been run over!
group-of-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaThe worst tragedies in recent years have resulted from tankers spilling oil. In 1994 about 10,000 birds were oiled, and only about half of them were saved. In the 2000 disaster, when the tanker Treasure sank off Robben Island, 18,000 oiled penguins were rescued and cleaned, and another 19,000 unoiled penguins were transported to Port Elizabeth, where they were released. signpost-for-boulders-beach-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaHowever, almost all the penguins returned to their original home with amazing accuracy and speed. Reporters seemed hopeful that most of the penguins would survive, although it made me think of us as humans! african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa-turquoise-waters-of-the-atlantic-oceanMany of us are rescued by Christ—saved, cleaned, and released in clean waters. What do we naturally do? Head straight for home, whether or not home is a safe place. If you’re a believer and have been delivered from an unsafe environment, please consider prayerfully if and when to return home. I am sure God wants us to love our families, but He doesn’t want us living in an environment that will kill us, like a coat of black slimy oil will kill a penguin.

sheltered-bay-and-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaAre you safe? Please don’t instinctively return home too soon.
Swim in clean water and let the Lord direct your paths.
warm-sand-for-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaThe Lord direct your hearts into the love of God,
and into the patient waiting for Christ
” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

 

Racing Extinction or Promoting Life

9                    Despite Racing Extinction being dubbed a “thriller” by some, Racing_Extinction_posterI think of it more as an electrifying documentary about the vicious and inexcusable exploitation of animals around the world that is resulting in a massive number of God’s two million+ beautiful species going extinct at an estimated rate of 150-200 (up to 2,000) per day, which many scientists believe is as much as 1000 times the natural rate and will be cataclysmic for our planet. 10Racing Extinction is a visually breathtaking and emotionally heartbreaking look at the cruel disregard for animal life in the mad rush for money and pleasure. louieLouie Psihoyos, a Greek American photographer and film director, has created a powerful documentary with enough incriminating evidence to convince anyone with a shred of humanity left that we need to do something to change our own habits and tastes in order to save our planet…literally! And, this isn’t just a money-making deal for Louie. 12On the day he was planning to accept an Academy Award for his documentary, The Cove, Louie instead went on an undercover mission to expose the (illegal) sale of whale meat at a restaurant in America. 6Racing Extinction shows several horrifying videos of undercover investigations of the shark fin and manta gill trade, and several of those who are risking their lives in this quest were choking back tears as they discussed the merciless killing of animals for delicacies or supposed medicines. 2In addition to the movie, activists have begun the campaign “Start with One Thing” to encourage people to change their habits. 1For those of us who aren’t in to eating Shark Fin Soup, there is one obvious way we can contribute: simply by eating a little less beef, which is hugely expensive to raise (in the global economy of resources). Fish Manta rayThat will be a tough one for me, because I love beef, but I’m going to try to do so, and I read that Americans are generally overfed, so it will probably be good for me as well as for the planet. After all, we’re all in this together!4And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). God has given us sovereignty over the earth, but I believe his intention is for us to care for our world as good stewards, the way a kind and merciful king would oversee his dominion.

Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner?

Dan and Brianna celebrating birthdayOne of our sons just moved back to GR and took a new job! Want to guess which one? It can’t be Daniel, because he and Brianna already live here. In fact, Brianna and Alan share a birthday, so last Sunday we had a birthday party together: Brianna’s 33 and Alan’s 66, making her exactly half Alan’s age! Ducklings swimming near shoreThat was super fun…although they might not have been quite so thrilled when I pointed out that they’ve now lived one-third and two-thirds of a century of excellence (respectively). I guess they’re no longer spring ducklings…

Gosling pecking in grassHow time flies!!  DeerTo make it a little harder to guess who’s coming for dinner tonight Geese and goslings near shore(and hopefully more fun), Geese and GoslingsI thought I’d add a few pictures of who’s already been coming over to eat Wood duckat our house every day. Racoon in cherry treeRaccy Coon and family come pretty much every dayRacoon eating cherries from tree…although they tend to come for an early-morning breakfast Racoon eating an unripe cherryand prefer fish for dinner (which we’re having tonight). Geese and goslings on shoreBrunch guests include the gaggling geese Geese and goslingsand their gangly goslings, Ducklings on the lawnalthough the ducklings seem to prefer late afternoon luncheons on the lawn.  Hairy Woodpecker on logThe woodpecker’s speciale is grubs ala log, Robin feeding babies in nestand the  the baby robins are very partial to worms ala mom, Robin in cherry treealthough both their parents love cherries! Robin eating a cherryIn fact, I’d say our black cherry tree has by far the favorite feasting fare Squirrel in treeat the moment, Squirrel harvesting cherriesand the squirrels, Robin in cherry treebirds, Chipmunk eating cherry in treeand chipmunks strip it bare before the cherries have a chance to really ripen.   😦 Grackle eating cherriesSo, it’s not like we don’t have lots of company for dinner, Chipmunk eating a cherrybut tonight is going to be very special, Alan Joel and Kathi in Italybecause Joel will be dining at our dinner table! Joel playing with Jon's kidsHe finished all his coursework for his PhD, and—enterprising soul that he is—

Joel walking with Jon's family on lanehe’s moved home from Boston and accepted a job working as an assistant editor at Kregel Publications, the oldest of four Dutch Christian publishing houses based here in Grand Rapids. Visiting Italy       Their office is just a few miles from our house, and he could bike it, 2009 Honda Fit     although he just bought a sporty Honda Fit last night, so he’s ready to travel!Joel out for SUP rideAt first Alan and I were appalled to think he’d leave his full-ride scholarship to take a job, but he can actually write his dissertation in GR if he wants, Joel with his nephewand he pointed out that most publishing companies require three years of experience before they’ll consider you, so we all feel this job is a special blessing and gift from God. Kayaking on LakeNow, instead of sirens and helicopter sounds at night, he’ll have to get used to geese and our frog chorus. Thank you, Lord!  Mourning Doves in treeGive praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
” (Psalm 105:1-3, NIV)

(PS—Just in case any of you are wondering, Joel is still single; all the pictures of Joel are with friends and family.)

 

Our Quiet Winter Guest

garden-room-2015-winter-copyOur garden room brings a bit of summer into our home even in the winter, but this past winter I discovered we had a quiet little guest who’d taken up residence with us! MandevillaI have no idea how he managed to find his way in, but perhaps he was happily residing in our mandevilla and caught a ride when I brought it in for the winter. Winter HomeHowever he arrived, I never noticed him until snows had covered the ground and it seemed inhospitable to take him outdoors, although I worried that he might not find enough to eat. Frog sleeping on an orchidHowever, every once in a while I would see him hopping across the floor, climbing up a window, or happily curled up, sleeping on a plant, and so I guessed he was managing okay and perhaps even helping me keep down the mealy bug population. Toad in gardenAt any rate, I finally found him again this spring one rainy day and  took him outside to enjoy the bliss of a warm, wet world among the violets and lilies of the valleys unfurling in our garden, and he hopped away, seemingly no worse for the wear and ready to enjoy springtime.Frog on orchid I was relieved that he’d survived, but almost a little sorry to see him go, since although I was concerned about his welfare, I found myself looking forward to seeing him on occasion and always hoped he’d be comfortable enough in his unusual winter retreat.Mandevilla in rainI think animals and flowers are happiest outside in the fresh air and sunshine… and probably people are too, but I’m so thankful for my home as a safe shelter for  sleeping at night and a warm, dry protection against inclement weather! Toad in garden 2And, I was very glad to have been able to provide a little haven for our quiet little guest last winter! May he live to be 100.  🙂

“He prayeth best, who loveth best;
All things great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us;
He made and loveth all.”
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

“He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.”
(Mrs. Cecil Alexander’s Hymns for Little Children, 1848)