Hawaii could be our only trip in The Year of the Plague

Boat whaleThe February Hawaii trip holds great fondness for me. Not just because of the successful whale-watching trip or the drive to Hana and around Maui on the once “forbidden-to rental-cars” road. The fondness is growing because it might be the only trip I take in this Year of the Plague.

All the time planning, getting camping permits, buying Kentucky Derby tickets, arranging hotel reservations, checking equipment for bike rides, kayak voyages and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. About to be washed away while sheltering in place – as in staying home. And then Major League Rugby followed some of the minor sports by canceling its season. Tickets in Seattle, Atlanta and Denver, all in the trash.

I do have time to make my way through my reading list:

The Plague by Albert Camus

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuckman

And, of course, A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

Defoe editor note

Unfortunately, I will not be leaving these books behind on planes and in hotels as I usually do with my reading materials when traveling. When leaving the plane in Hawaii, I left behind a copy of the Ohio Farmer. Version 2The February 2020 issue had a scary story in it about “metabolic based resistance . . . occurs once weeds develop that can convert an active ingredient into metabolites that don’t kill the plant.” In other words, weeds that we can’t kill, sort of like viruses, only bigger. The weeds “continue stacking diverse herbicide-metabolism genes into their genetics,” spelling the end of chemical control of weeds, leading to a version of Tom Russell’s question: “Who’s going to hoe those beans when the Mexicans have all gone away?”

I always leave behind a copy of The Liberty Press, so people can keep up with the Mighty Tigers, the town’s sewer and water problems and a library expansion in a town of 1,000. You never know what you might read there. Did you know that the real name of the Big Bopper (as in “Chantilly Lace”) was Jiles Perry Richardson?

Who knows what good will come of my leaving behind my copy of the Washington Thoroughbred? Someone might contact www.blueribbonfarm.com to learn the stud fee for Atta Boy Roy, a horse I always liked even though I lost money on him. How could I with a horse that had both Secretariat and Seattle Slew as great grandparents? The plane cleaner who ponies up enough money to pay the stud fee might have a horse in the Kentucky Derby that maybe, some years from now, I might see run, and probably lose money on it.

We have done one trip since Hawaii, driving halfway across Oregon to deliver a grandson to his parents who had driven up from California. With Seattle University doing online classes only, the grandson, a junior at SU, went home where the governor has ordered him and his family to stay. Which seems a long ways from the Feb. 14 issue of The Week magazine I left behind at our hotel. The headline, not a lead headline, was: “China: Is it doing enough to control the coronavirus?” Yes, said an editorial in China’s Global Times. No, said the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. The dead: 420; infected: 20,000. We should remember Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who warned about the new illness, got carted away in the middle of the night by police and accused of spreading rumors. He has since died of the disease.

The Diamond Princess has just started a two-week quarantine with 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew members. Since then, more than 700 on board tested positive for the virus.

Another headline: “Coronavirus: Should you be afraid?” No, the article said, worry about the flu.

If only.

Wolf Creek

If you could re-pursue your career, I might shoot big cats

PantherWhen Shannon Wild presented her show “Pursuit of the Black Panther” in Seattle, we asked when the photographs and videos she had shot would be seen on TV. She said she hoped they would be on Nat Geo Wild in March.

Looking at the Nat Geo Wild upcoming shows, we find:

“The Real Black Panther”
One-hour special premieres Winter 2020; produced by Symbio Studios
The hot, dry, deciduous jungles of South India are no place for a melanistic leopard. But Saya is different. He is the only black panther in the entire Kabini Forest, and he’s got one thing on his mind: to take over and make this leopard paradise his own. But Scarface, the current ruler, won’t give it up easily. With one eye on his prey and the other on the ever-changing skies, Saya must befriend the sun and the clouds to master the shadows so that he can move unnoticed and hunt successfully. Between these trees lies an untold story — one that defies the laws of natural selection. Furthermore, it’s a story of astounding adaptability and success. Told in first-person narrative, this is the journey of Saya — the real black panther.

That may be the show Wild spoke of, but the above promo frames things in a much different way than how Wild depicted her adventures.

The TV promo seems to portray a standoff between wild cats (“Told in first-person narrative”? Meow, meow, grrrr!).

Wild’s presentation at Benaroya Hall on Jan. 14, 2020, seemed to be more about her versus all things that would foil her pursuit of the Black Panther, including being bitten by a cheetah, losing track of the elusive panther for weeks at a time and getting thrown from a truck and breaking her back.

Wild’s photographic career started in 2004 when she opened a pet photography business in her native Australia. As she showed the audience some of the pictures she had taken of cats and dogs, she explained her photographic philosophy: focus on the pets, pose them in natural settings, fade out the background and have vibrant colors in the photo. Also, she said, it helped to win the trust of the pet and be “welcomed into their world” – on the ground, close to the pet.

Above, Kathy shows Shannon Wild a photo of our pet cat Lily.

But after seven years of pet photography, Wild decided she wanted to photograph wildlife. So off she went to the Indonesian islands to photograph what she called “a true living dinosaur,” the Komodo dragon.

Somewhere along the line, she met Russell MacLaughlin, a photographer and videographer from South Africa. After a courtship of one week, they married. That was six years ago.

She moved to Africa and started photographing the wildlife there, using some of her pet philosophy but also learning more about cat behavior: When to hold ground, when to leave. Which didn’t always serve her well.

While photographing a cheetah in an enclosed reserve, she knelt to adjust equipment and should have recognized what the cat was doing: moving around behind her. The cheetah jumped over Wild’s back, clamped jaws down on her left arm and started squeezing it just like a cheetah would do to an antelope’s windpipe to kill it.

Russ and others rushed forward to pull the cat away. The video of her after 20 seconds in the cheetah’s jaws showed her laughing and making jokes “because I was embarrassed” before she went into shock.

She’s left-handed and lost the use of the arm for three months, but learned that “the most dangerous animal is the one you don’t see coming.”

But it didn’t stop her from pursuing wildlife. She and Russ collaborated with Shaaz Jung, a “big cat specialist,” to start filming the “panther pardus fusca,” the leopard in the Kabini Forest, part of the Nagarahole National Park in India. And how is a leopard a black panther? As the National Geographic says on its website: the result of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal so that it appears black. (If you look at the third photo on this page you can see that the black panther has spots, as in a photo Wild showed in her presentation.)

The leopards in Africa spend a lot of their time in trees. Not so in India’s forest. There they are on the ground, which makes it harder to find and film them. Wild’s camera crew also had restrictions from the park: Film between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., stay on the roads, etc.

WildAnd leopards don’t sit up and pose like pets do. Wild told about waiting four hours to get 10 minutes of the leopard in the open.

Then one day the leopard showed up with nasty scars across its face and damage to one eye. Leopards are territorial, and if another tries to encroach, well, a fight is in the offing. The leopard disappeared for eight weeks, and Wild and crew did not have enough footage yet to make a show.

They searched and waited, filmed wild dogs, Asian elephants (40,000 muscles in their trunks!) and stopped because they had too much footage of these animals.

Above, if you had 40,000 muscles in your trunk, you could do this. Saul video shot in Africa.

Finally, the panther reappeared. Thin but healed, a white scar across its face. Still had two eyes. Filming resumed. Until a nasty turn in a truck carrying Wild and her amazing equipment) sent the unbolted things flying. Equipment bolted; Wild not. Four broken vertebrae and weeks to recuperate. She adopted Phoebe, a pet cat, as in a small, kitty variety, that gave her “a reason to get up in the morning.”

When Wild returned, it was the rainy season, when the forest grows lush and it’s harder find and see the leopard. They learned the behavior of the animals, the sounds and were continuously listening, finding the animal’s territory, basically sharing their lives. You can get quite close, Wild said, as you become irrelevant: Neither prey nor enemy.

Until finally, there was enough footage and soon, Wild hopes, the show will appear on Nat Geo Wild. Don’t miss it if you love seeing wildlife in their natural setting.

Which I do. I envy Wild for her job filming big cats, probably our favorite on a fall trip to Kenya and Tanzania. Would love to do that full time, except that I would find these lion cubs I shot in the first video below so cute I would try to pet them. That would make me an enemy, soon to have my windpipe crushed.

Using women’s instinct to protect African wildlife

Once you have seen animals in the wild, protecting them can become an obsession, as it did for Damien Mander, who came to talk and show photographs Oct. 29, 2019 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. It was the first event we have signed up for called “National Geographic Live.” I found out that I have fallen out of practice taking notes in the dark. So here’s from memory and the brochure handed out in the entry hall.

Damien

It seems that Mander is obsessed with more than saving wild animals. In fact, it looks as if he goes into all stages of his life in an obsessive fashion, out to do it all well, energetically and to the nth degree. Born in Australia, he was obsessed with water, could not stay out of the sea. He became a “clearance diver” in the Australian Navy.

Then on to Special Forces as a sniper and then a trainer in the Iraq War. He served three years there before abandoning it.

“The second mistake we made there, besides getting into it, was disbanding the Iraqi army,” Mander said. That took the jobs away from not just the soldiers, but also the income to the extended families depending on those jobs, alienating millions who probably were not sorry to see Saddam Hussein go and might have signed on to rebuild the nation.

Mander bounced around South America — photos of what looked like a good time in bars, but maybe not, as he also mentioned the statistics on Iraq War veterans’ suicides. Then to Africa where he was introduced to nature and had an epiphany — my word — when looking into the eyes of a buffalo that had ripped itself apart in a trap set by poachers. As his companion shot that animal, putting it out of its misery, Mander had found his next obsession.

In 2009, he founded the International Anti Poaching Foundation to preserve an ecosystem by “training and equipping rangers to fight the poaching crisis in Africa.” Given that a pound of ivory from an elephant’s tusk is worth $35,000 in Vietnam, it is no wonder that people in Zimbabwe, where 72 percent of the population is below the poverty line, would be attracted to poaching. So arresting poachers was taking the income from many families there, causing conflicts with local communities.

In 2017, the IAPF started “Akashinga,” which means Brave Ones in the Shona language. The idea was to empower “disadvantaged women to restore and manage a network of wilderness areas as an alternative economic model to trophy hunting” and poaching. As the brochure says:

“The women of Akashinga have built strong relationships with the locals, de-escalated conflict and invested into their communities. The community response to this was to work with us in conservation, rather than against us.”

Akashinga

A squad leader, Vimbai Kumire, who barely reaches up to the chest of Mander, also addressed us at Benaroya. Despite her diminutive size, she showed that passion could be more powerful than bullets. She told of the importance of animals to their culture and country and explained that it was not only an honor to protect them but was also providing income for her family and dignity for herself.

Many of the arrests made — “without firing a single shot” — are related to organized crime and the use of poisons.

“Syndicates have been broken open and we have been advised of an 80% reduction in elephant poaching across the region since 2016,” the brochure says.

The organization now has the responsibility for protecting wildlife in more than one million acres. The most asked question, Mander says, by those arrested is not “Why am I being arrested?” but “Why am I being arrested by a woman?”

“For so long, our vision has been clouded by ego from seeing the most powerful force in nature — a woman’s instinct to protect.”

It may take all of that and more to protect the wildlife in Africa. With more than two billion people living on that continent by 2040, the loss of wildlife habitat will continue to grow. According to an article in the Oct. 10, 2019  edition of The Times of London (picked up in Amsterdam on our way home from Africa), many countries have lost their rhinoceros populations because of habitat loss: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad.

Because of poaching, the rhino population in Botswana could be wiped out in two years, the article said. Rhino horns fetch $50,000 per kilogram in Asia, where they are used in traditional therapies. Botswana has fewer than 400 rhinos and has lost one a month in 2019, a rate that is still increasing. Conservationists blame part of that on President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has disarmed the anti-poaching unit. His predecessor, Ian Khama, had an “unofficial shoot-to-kill” policy.

PlaqueThe rhinos we saw in Kenya were kept under armed guard. Not chained up or penned, but accompanied by the guards. Theirs is a dangerous way to make a living. A plaque on the overlook into the Ngorongoro Crater listed conservationists who have lost their lives, including six killed by poachers or bandits.

“In truth, there are really only a few things that matter: character and spirit,” Mander writes in the brochure. “If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a chance. CV’s, references, qualifications and fitness levels mean nothing here. We don’t want perfect. We want scrappers. someone that knows what it’s like to have to fight for survival. The rest will be learned.”

 

 

What really went on in Africa. Anna tells all

Anna is a much better journalist than I. She can take notes in the back of a bouncing Land Cruiser on a dirt road in Kenya and Tanzania. She asks good questions. She can hear out of both ears, and she writes faster than I. And does so very well. She sends out stories about her and Ian’s travels in a newsletter, which should be a blog or a book.

I’m on her email list, and when I saw this, I asked permission to use it here as my way of tell madcapschemes.com readers what really went on during our two-week trip to East Africa.

Hope you enjoy it.

John B.

 

Meanderings 1

Meanderings 2

Meanderings 3

Meanderings 4

Meanderings 5

Meanderings 6

Meranderings 7

Meanderings 8

Kenya and Tanzania in a 38-photo slideshow

Still sorting through my photos from the recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania and realizing it will take forever to put them in some sort of arrangement that will be perfect. So I decided I would not let perfect be the enemy of good.

Here are some of what I think are some of my best in a slideshow. Hope you enjoy them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then I realized I had left out the cheetah. Didn’t want to cheetah you.

Cheetah

This blog has gone to the birds — African ones

This may be the first of several posts like this while I sort through photographs we took on our recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania. There are still elephants, lions, antelopes and many more animals to go in the 600 pictures I have saved out of more than 1,000 — not counting videos. As Laura said on the trip, “I just can’t stop taking pictures.”

And we’re not done with birds yet. I am still waiting for my bird identifier (that would be Kathy, who is now fully in the birder ranks) to finish other photos we have not traced down in our “Birds of East Africa” book. We probably will have some that we will need help on. Stand by.

Yellow-necked spurfowl
Yellow-necked spurfowl
Yellow billed stork
Yellow billed stork
Woolly-necked stork
Woolly-necked stork
Verreaux's eagle-owl
Verreaux’s eagle-owl
Spur-winged lapwing
Spur-winged lapwing
Secretary bird
Secretary bird
Lilac-breasted roller
Lilac-breasted roller
Helmeted guineafowl
Helmeted guineafowl
Hamerkop
Hamerkop
Great wite pelican
Great white pelican
Gray-headed kingfisher
Gray-headed kingfisher
Egyptian goose
Egyptian goose
Crowned lapwing
Crowned lapwing
Common squacco heron
Common squacco heron
Common fiscal
Common fiscal
African spoonbill
African spoonbill
African Jacana
African Jacana

Take me back to Theroux’s plain of snakes

Theroux book 2I’d read half of Paul Theroux’s new book, “On the Plain of Snakes,” when I went to hear the author speak Wednesday night, Oct. 16, 2019, at Seattle’s Town Hall. That was probably a mistake.

The night before, I had heard Tim Egan speak on his new book, “A Pilgrimage to Eternity.” Since it was published on that very day, I had obviously not read it.

So Egan’s speech was an introduction to the book. Theroux’s talk was probably an effective intro to his book, but for me, I wanted an expansion on what he had written and I had read.

What was behind President Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper in 1994 that changed the U.S.-Mexico border from a simple line that Mexicans crossed every day to work, shop and visit to a place of “fences, patrol cars, security technology and massive deportations”?

Why was President Obama’s Fast and Furious program to sell high-caliber guns across the border so that they could be traced when cartel members committed crimes with them, such a failure?

Tell me more about Trump’s insults to Mexicans, the effects of NAFTA on Mexico’s poor and why Mexico’s government is so corrupt that Mexicans have little time to complain about the corruption in Trump’s administration.

More about the violence in Mexico and how the police and drug cartels are often the same.

Theroux 1But he did expand on some things he had written in the book, like his reaction to what he calls “the fence.” In the book, he wrote:

“An ugly steel fence you might associate with a prison perimeter, twenty-five feet high, like nothing I had seen in any other country. A Texas congressman had called it ‘an inefficient fourteenth-century solution to a twenty-first century problem,’ which was accurate because, like a medieval wall, it was merely a symbol of exclusion rather than anything practical, and easily climbed over or tunneled under. In an age of aerial surveillance and high-security technology, it was a blacksmith’s barrier of antiquated ironmongery: old rusty ramparts running for miles, a visible example of national paranoia.”

Theroux has written more than 50 books, many of them from his travels around the world. He says the southern border is the oddest one in the world, like a Christo environmental art project. He describes walking through the door in the fence at the end of a Nogales street as an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole experience. “Open the door, and suddenly you are in Mexico.”

Despite this oddness, the border is a back-and-forth flow, with most of it nowadays going north. Mexicans still come across, although now they have to stand in long lines with their legal documents to get to their jobs, etc.

One surprise for Theroux was the large number of what U.S. officials call “Special Interest Aliens,” people caught trying to cross the border from India, China, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and from African nations, mostly from Nigeria. In some Southwest U.S. detention facilities, fewer than half are from Mexico.

So why do they leave, Theroux asked. They are at home surrounded with their culture, family, religion and places they know. But they pay a coyote thousands of dollars to take them to the border and maybe across it. They have everything except that “they ain’t got no dinero.” Annual income for people living in the southern Mexico states of Chiapas or Oaxaca is similar to those in rural Kenya or Bangladesh: $3,400. People living in Eritrea fought for years to win independence and freedom from Ethiopia and are now the top group trying to get into Europe. After fighting like that, why would you leave?

“On the Plain of Snakes” tells the stories of some of these people. It’s not a travel book that will “tell you where the best tacos are in Merida,” but a book that will “see things as they are,” Theroux’s stock in trade.

The other reason I like this book is because it covers a place and a way of travel that I did with my friend Jeff in 1974 and 1975, traveling in the back of trucks that stopped for hitch hikers, in second-class buses and crowded train cars. Not sure if we saw things as they are, but we had a lot of fun traveling through Saltillo, Torreon, Durango, Mazatlan and Tepic, with a few “near death experiences” that Theroux calls the essence of travel books. And Theroux is 78-years-old; it’s not too late to do it again.

Jeff

John

 

Missed 20 rugby games to hang out with baboons

Baboon and baby

I missed watching 20 games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup to hang out with a bunch of baboons.

I thought I could watch the games on an iPad while on a 12-day trip to Kenya and Tanzania, but that did not happen. For one thing, NBC Sports Gold streaming service that I paid for is not available outside the United States. Should have read the fine print. Actually it’s in big type under the FAQ, but what male asks for directions or reads the instructions. Another problem was that my international calling plan from AT&T doesn’t cover Kenya and Tanzania. Then there was the spotty wifi coverage in game camps where we stayed. Missed hearing from friends and family, but a nice break from wars, presidential high crimes and misdemeanors and other worldly troubles as we spend our time watching “slavering animals and colorful natives” as Paul Theroux says in “Dark Star Safari.”

Well, sorry Mr. Theroux, but we enjoyed it probably more than you did in your endless bus ride across Africa.

This blog’s future posts will try to introduce those animals, slavering or not, as I edit almost a thousand pictures and videos. Lions, no tigers or bears, but lots of wildebeest, leopards, zebras, cheetahs and birds will come knocking at your door as one baboon did at the Ol Tukai Lodge in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Kathy and I were dressing in the morning when the door suddenly swung open, and there, standing on his two hind legs with his forearms stretched in front of him, was our friendly baboon wake-up call. He stared, we stared and Ian, one of our traveling companions, said from outside, “You should lock your door.” A few yells and Mr. Baboon went away but returned later to peek in the window and eat a small snake just to the side of our porch.

Baboon in window

Speaking of simian behavior, let me tell you about some of it that appeared at the Rugby World Cup before we disappeared into East Africa. The last newspaper we read in the Amsterdam airport was the Sept. 28 edition of The Times of London (lovely to have a paper that covers your favorite sport). Alex Lowe, the Deputy Rugby Correspondent, wrote about the disconnect between World Rugby’s “promised clampdown on dangerous tackles” and the referees and players on the field. In the first week of RWC play, four potential red cards were missed by the referees. Two Samoans got three-game bans for dangerous tackles in their 34-9 win over Russia. But the suspensions came after the game ended when the governing body and judicial hearings used 28 camera angles and Hawk-Eye technology (whatever that is) to spot the offenses missed by the single referee and his two assistant refs (touch judges, as we used to call them).

Reece Hodge, an Australian player, also received a post-game “red card” for a tackle that left a Fiji player concussed. In his hearing that led to his three-game suspension, Hodge “admitted to having no knowledge of the interpretation of rules on high tackles and had not been given any training on it,” according a an article by Steve James in The Times. That seems to have left the Australian coach fuming. Michael Cheika said he coached his players to tackle around the waist and “we do not need a framework to tell them how to tackle.” That framework, he said, is for referees “to decide whether there is a red or yellow cards in a game.”

That did not work in the England-United States game where Piers Francis was charged with foul play after concussing Will Hooley, a USA back. For Francis there was no yellow or red card or even a penalty in the game. The charge came later, and as Ian points out, getting 10 minutes in the sin bin (yellow card) or ejected from the game (red card) forcing your team to play a man short, could have an effect on the game if referees called them. Given that the United States was beaten 45-7, England might have won with10 men. But in another game? Could make a big difference.

Also in the news of Sept. 28: Wales was trying to figure a way to beat Australia (they did), and Ireland’s coach Joe Schmidt said he “hoped to put more width on the ball” in the their game against Japan, according to an article by Peter O’Reilly. I take that to mean get the ball out to the backs more. It didn’t work. Remember when I said Ireland beating Scotland didn’t prove much about their strength? Losing 19-12 against Japan probably says more. Still hoping for the Irish side to take the tournament, but I’m not laying any green on that pick.

Emerging from Africa and reading the Oct. 10 edition of The Times of London in the Amsterdam airport, we find that Japan and the Rugby World Cup there are battened down as Typhoon Hagibis sweeps over them. So far, there are two people dead and nine missing from the storm.

Three RWC games have been canceled – England vs. France, New Zealand vs. Italy and Namibia vs. Canada. Each of these teams will get two points, as in a tie, in the pool standings. England and France are both going into the quarterfinals and the game would have sorted out seeding. Now England goes as top seed, and France as the runner-up. Italy was going nowhere in a disappointing RWC appearance, and New Zealand will go out as top seed. It would have been nice if Canada or Namibia could get a win in the tournament, but they will have to wait another four years.

Scotland vs. Japan is where it will make a difference. If that Sunday game (starting at 3:30 a.m. in Seattle) is canceled, Scotland will lose its chance to advance out of pool play. Ireland, beating Samoa 47-5, moved into top spot in Pool A. Japan, with 14 points, is second and Scotland with 10 points is third. No game, and Japan ends with 15 points and Scotland with 12. Japan goes on as Pool A runner up, and Scotland goes home.

This, according to Owen Slot, Times Chief Rugby Correspondent, would “discredit the entire event.”

“This is the very stuff of which World Cups are made; it is two teams fighting for survival. To dispatch Scotland from the tournament because of Typhoon Hagibis would make a farce of the event.”

Probably not if players, refs and fans got carried away by flooding rivers, but let’s talk important stuff here: Scotland got screwed in the 2015 by a bad call in their quarterfinal game. The RWC should do all to give them a chance in 2019, even though I am hoping for Japan to go forward as a team outside the usual suspects: South Africa and New Zealand in Pool B; England and France in Pool C; Wales and Australia in Pool D; and Ireland in Pool A.

So far, the United States vs. Tonga game is still on (10:45 tonight). Another rugby all-nighter coming up. And tomorrow, I will sleep like a baboon, as one of the African guides said last week.

Coming up: Rhinos and USA Eagles and “Ikale Tahi” (Sea Eagles).

 

 

Best day at the track: Thank you, Pick 6 Eddie

Arlington Hotel
Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas

The lobby of the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Ark., serves many purposes. It’s the spillover seating for the bar off to the side. There’s a band shell for music and evening dancing, and during the day it serves as a waiting room for those checking into this majestic and old – mostly old – remnant of the late 19th Century.

Arlington bar
The Arlington Hotel bar

The clerk who helped me check in was enthusiastic about all Hot Springs had to offer, although he mostly rained on my ideas for a one-day visit here. Hot springs out in the wilds? No, all the waters have been long ago captured and fed into spas and bath houses. The only place on Bath House Row that still offers “waters” is the Buckstaff Baths. There are spa offerings available at hotel, which did not fit into my schedule.

Buckstaff

What’s the most popular activity for people to do at this national park? Get out and take a hike, see the natural beauty of Arkansas. Would it match the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest?

Let’s face it, I was only being polite. The clerk didn’t need to feel bad about my refusal to engage in hiking or taking in the waters as he suggested. My real reason for coming to Hot Springs was to attend the races at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

I bought a Daily Racing Form (DRF) at the front desk (how many hotels can you do that?) and walked off to my room with the paint peeling from the walls. Clean, but old – mostly old. Studied the form and then headed down Saturday morning to the best use of the Arlington lobby. Every morning before the races, Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell offers his advice on the day’s card.

Pick 6
Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell in the Arlington lobby

He starts out asking if anyone in the crowd bets horse according to the horse’s names. A few raised their hands, and I could have held up a finger or two since it is something I rarely do. But once in a while a name pops up so much like mine that I can’t pass it up. On those races, I accept that I will bet the name, the urge so strong that it will bias my handicapping so much that I can’t get through the past performances without going back and confirming my namesake has the best chance of winning, three-legged horse or not. I settle for the name and hope for the best, which hardly ever comes my way. Johnny Five? How could I pass on that? A moderate bet for a two-dollar bettor like me, and the horse veers immediately out of Seattle’s Emerald Downs starting gate, unseats his rider and hits the rail, rolling over it into the infield. Could be a horse high jumper, but in Thoroughbred racing that is DNF: Did Not Finish. (Next time Johnny Five ran, he won and paid $8.80, and I was nowhere near a track or off-track betting).

Never follow my bets. I could not do what Pick 6 was doing, offering tips on four-legged animals who seem to do what they want not what the Daily Racing Form says they should. I’d feel too guilty about anyone who took my handicapping advice and then a subsequent financial bath.

Pick 6 warned us about betting names and omens:

“I woke up right at five o’clock in the morning, looked out my window and saw five bluebirds singing on the telephone line. I was on the fifth floor of the hotel in Room 555. I put on my pants and found I only had five dollars left to my name. Got out my form and saw that in the fifth race there was a horse named Henry the Fifth. Took the No. 5 bus to the track and used all five dollars to bet on Henry the Fifth to win. Stood in the fifth row up from the rail and watched him come in fifth.”

I paid particular attention to what he said about races two, three and four because I figured on exploring the track on my first visit there, wandering the food stands, restaurants, betting windows and the casino – people watching instead of horse watching. So after a brisk two-mile walk, partly along the Grand Promenade behind Bath House Row, to Oaklawn, I figured I had the info I needed to fill in for what I had not handicapped. I did races one, five through nine, neglecting the last race of the day because it’s usually filled with what’s left over.

Broadwalk
Hot Springs Broadwalk

Race one went with my pick, Audacious Angel, showing no interest in racing today while Pick 6 Eddie’s choice, Heavens Whisper, won by one and three quarters lengths. I lose eight bucks on that race. OK, I’m a two-dollar bettor but sometimes those two-dollar bets are times four. Looking at Pick 6 Eddie’s winner, I figured I could rely on him to see me through the next three races I had neglected.

What a disaster. Not only did Pick 6 let me down, but the teller at the betting window seemed to be in cahoots to make my day at Oaklawn a bust. Eddie liked Rosemary Beach as one to pair up in the Exacta (betting the top two horses to finish in order) with others he thought would be in the top two. I’m sure I told the teller I wanted #11 (Rosemary Beach) paired with Eddie’s five horses. I’m sure I told the teller I wanted #11 (Rosemary Beach) paired with 1, 2, 5, 7, 10. That would be five one-dollar bets (11 with 1, 11 with 2, 11 with 5, etc) or $10 in bets if you reversed the bet or “boxed” it (1 with 11, 2 with 11, etc), which I did. If the 11 comes in first or second, I collect winnings, hoping for the longest odds to pair up with Rosemary Beach to enhance the payoff. Instead, the teller seemed to have written it as all six horses boxed together, or something like that. I still can’t figure out how my $10 bet ended up costing $30. Maybe I did not speak Arkansese well enough. Like the sign says at the window, “Always check tickets before leaving.”

I did not.

The #12 (Dabinawa Dove) came in second to Rosemary Beach, and Pick 6 Eddie had overlooked this 68-1 long shot who had only run one race so poorly it earned no Beyers points (you can look that up). The Exacta paid $56.80, the Trifecta (top three horse in order) paid $325 and the Superfecta (top four horse in order) paid $595. And we had not a cent of any of it. Only a dove would bet that horse.

I had not abandoned all hope in Eddie just yet. He had suggested another bet that seemed worth doing – betting the 50 cent Pick 3, naming the winner in three consecutive races. Put in three horses in each race as possible winners and the total bet is $13.50 (my two dollar bet times 6.75), but the payoff, Eddie said, could be grand if something other than a favorite won one of the three races. My picks for races 2, 3 and 4 were (11-7-1) with (8, 6, 5) with (2, 4, 5). Rosemary Beach came through in the second, Frost or Frippery won the third and all I needed in the fourth race, thanks to Eddie, were to see Trail Boss, Wild Haven or French Dancer cross the line first. Eddie did not recognize the worth of #3, Ludington, who won the fourth race and had me down $51.50 after four races, the Great Recession all over again for a wayward two-dollar bettor.

What would the Pick 3 pay? Who cared? I had none of it, although Eddie and I got two thirds of the way through it before our trio refused to play along. Maybe if I used his bets with my horses. I could climb out of this recession with a few wins, which, as soon as I thought it, struck me as the losing gamblers’ fatal flaw and phrase: ”Stay and win back my losses,” which usually means losing everything in your pocket and, hopefully, never have an ATM card anywhere near you.

There’s always some truth in those sayings about what the “normal” gaming addict would do: Like bet $22 on the next race and win $10.80, a normal routine for me at the racetrack. Flatoutcountry came through to win, but all my horses in my exotic bets (Exacta, etc) never made the tote board thanks to Flashy Biz at 14-1 and Letters to Belle, which “couldn’t last,” according to the DRF. In it’s last race, a DNF and 0 in Beyers. Never finished better than sixth. Will the one person named Belle stand up and share some of the money they won on this 47-1 horse?

Down another $12 and figured out what I could lose: no more than $100 or I would have to check out of the Arlington and sleep in the truck.

In for $10.40 in the race with all depending on B.B. Dude, running his first race since getting gelded. Always bet those horses since now they can keep their minds on racing. The Dude did not abide. He finished sixth, perhaps fretting over love’s labors lost.

We’re up in the 70-dollar range now in money lost, $73.10 to be exact, although they say to never count your money at the table, especially if doing so makes you want to faint or break down weeping. But I bucked up, or maybe start that “uck” word with an F. Time to go all in or go home. Into the seventh race we march, armed with a win ticket on Box of Chocolates and a 10 cent Superfecta boxed filled out by Better Charge It, Kinetic Swagger and Rocknroll Rocket. Plus, we have renewed Eddie’s Pick 3 idea for races seven, eight and nine. In for a total of $27.50, including the Pick 3. We’re 60 cents over saying goodbye to a Ben Franklin, and thank God I have legs enough and don’t need bus fare to walk to my overnight accommodations in my truck.

Eddie had liked Box of Chocolates because of breeding (by Candy Ride – the sire – out of Lady Godiva – the mare). When talking in the Arlington lobby, he hadn’t said anything about breeding until handicapping the seventh race. He said he mostly used it when judging first time starters. This is what he said about breeding:

“Three people were sitting in a bar, each having a glass of wine. When the Frenchman noticed a fly in his glass, he drank the wine right down. When the Englishman saw a fly in his wine, he ordered the waiter over and said this was an abomination and demanded another glass. Then the Irishman noticed a fly in his wine. He immediately reached in, grabbed the fly by its hindquarters and held it over the glass, shouting, ‘Spit it back! Spit it back!’”

That’s what I know about horse breeding.

I liked Box of Chocolates for having the best Beyer numbers in the field at this distance (a mile) and at this level: Maiden race for 3-year-olds with $47,000 in purse money. Also drew the top jock at the meet, Ricardo Santana, Jr.

Whether breeding, best Beyer, top jock or all of the above, Box of Chocolate won, and the supporting cast in my Superfecta also played their parts very well, making it into the top four places. Payoff for that race was $27.09, just 41 cents short of what I needed to cover my bets, including the Pick 3, which as still alive and now paid for.

We’re only down $73.51, but almost winning back what I bet seemed almost even. What would it take to make me even? Eddie asked that question once to another top handicapper he knew. “How far ahead are you?” the handicapper asked right back.

I had No. 3 to win (Bebop Shoes. Who could resist?) in the eighth. Not just for the name, of course, I rarely do that. First, second and third in the last three races, including a stakes for $100,000 and two races at $83,000. The race today is an allowance (you can look it up) for $91,000, and Bebop Shoes has won at a higher level with higher Beyers numbers.

He did not win.

He was beaten by a neck by J.E.’s Handmedown. Which turned out to be a good thing. I had bet J.E. Handmedown, with longer odds, in my Exacta, my Superfecta and in my Pick 3, which had one more race to go. Bebop Shoes and J.E. Handmedown paid $21.60 in the Exacta, and the Superfecta completed by Bandit Point at third and Absolutely Aiden at fourth, a horse I had on my loser list – yes, I keep lists. I had seen his last race when he came in eight out of eight, fading badly from an upfront position. Pannell was high on him because of his first-time-starter win at Saratoga. I included him reluctantly after someone in the Arlington lobby that morning said he saw the loser race and thought he saw the saddle slip when the horse started going backwards.

I won $85.99, which put me $2.08 ahead. As much as I wanted to take credit for this – filling Eddie’s betting system with my horses – I realized that without his backing of Absolutely Aiden in the Superfecta I would have missed the payoff that made me a little bit ahead.

In the ninth race, all I had to do was hope that Nos. 3, 4 or 7 won the race. I didn’t handicap this race because of Classy John, No. 3 in your program. Had to go with him, and forget facing the past performances with a clear head. Back to relying on Pannell’s picks: five of the eight horse in the race got commented on, with this on Classy John: “Maybe. . . maybe, No. 3.” Added his top two with No. 3: Nitrous and Frosted Ice.

Many of the horses in this race had been in prep races for the Kentucky Derby, running in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn and other stakes. None of them had moved on to Louisville and Churchill Downs but were here competing in the Bachelor Stakes for $150,000 in purse money. Classy John had come in seventh in the Rebel and no one but someone named John would bet him.

He got to third early in the race and then started falling behind. I watched him fade to fifth and then saw him cross the finish line in sixth. Frosted Ice was nowhere in the top four, and I said out loud, “What happened to No. 4?”

“No. 4 won. Didn’t you see?” said the unknown person beside me who probably was not named John or busy watching No. 3. Turned out that while Classy John was fading, Nitrous was closing the gap from sixth with a half mile to go, to fourth at the start of the stretch and on to win by one and three quarters lengths.

Thanks, Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell, for the $75.50 Pick 3 payoff.

Lund
Valorie Lund with the red hair.

And there was more to come. Pannell had mentioned Valorie Lund as a great trainer. She used to train at Emerald Downs and is, in fact, a great trainer. I might have noticed that if I ever handicapped the last race of the day. But picking Tie.jpgthis winner would mean overturning some deep-seated belief that horse bettors carry around like ticks embedded in some hidden folds of skin they can’t see; I’ll not say where. Betting Ship it Red, trained by V. Lund, to win added another $12.20 to my wallet for a total winning for the day of $85.78.

A profitable use of the Arlington lobby for that Saturday, and every time I wear my “Bringing Up the Rear” tie that I bought at the Oaklawn gift shop, I’ll thank Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell for my best day at the track and his good advice on horse names, omens and breeding.

Me tie

 

On the Smith River with a Spotter scared . . . spitless

This is a story about rafting a river with a Spotter who is scared spitless.

Wait, I misspelled that last word.

The spotter is supposed to look out for rocks and snags in the river, telling the rower to move around the hazards.

So the Spotter and Rower started out fine the first day on the Smith River in Montana. The flows were high but not so high to cancel the trip as we did a year ago. After four years of trying to get a permit, one of our six applicants (all put in for same date, whoever wins takes us all), finally got one. Last year we tried to go on a permit that had been canceled by someone who backed out, as we did when the floods came.

Our leader
Our leader

On our first day at Camp Baker, the put-in spot, we got the briefing from Laura our Leader. Face the danger. Back away from it. Go sideways down the river. Follow the bubbles that indicate current.

A rough landing at our first camp, Lower Scotty Allen campsite, after 12 miles and three hours rowing, but we didn’t overshoot it and go downstream. Fresh vegetables that night for dinner. Weather chilly but clear; the expected rain never showed up.

Next morning: snow. On the 8th of June. So we waited it out, got things mostly dry, packed up and pushed off into something called the “Rock Garden.”

There were rocks – so many that the Spotter went panicky. “There’s a rock. Go back. Back. Back, back, back. BACK, I say!”

So we backed into the bank behind us, spun around, got oars tangled in brush, hit rocks any way. More rocks, more backing. Trying to row forward to avoid hitting the back bank. Final indignity was getting hung up on a rock, trying to get off it before current toppled us. Finally pulled an oar from the oarlock and pushed us off the rock protruding in the middle of our raft. We went to the garden alone while the waves were still on the rocks until we came spinning around a corner and there was Laura, standing hands crossed across her chest before grabbing our bow line.

“I’m scared to death watching you two. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. What are you doing?”

The briefing at Camp Baker now delivered as a lecture:

“Face the danger. Back away from it. Turn the boat and row backwards. Trying to row forward gets you little. You’re working too hard at rowing. Let the river do the work. Stay in the center of the river, not bouncing off the sides. Miss rocks by 20 inches, not 20 feet. I don’t want to see my friends die.”

Which was never my intention, although the Spotter may have had some doubts.

We got back in our boats, a bit chagrined. But we had listened and tried to do better on spotting, rowing and communicating, which we did. Miss the rocks, do better on two-oared turns to face the danger. Watch my back side so that I don’t plow into something worst that what we were trying to avoid up front. No yelling at each other either out of fear or anger. Miss the rocks by 20 inches and settle in for the nice parts of the ride.

That did not include hail while on the river that day before we landed (better but not perfect) at Lower Sunset Cliffs 14 miles downstream and three and a half hours rowing.

Then the weather got better, and we got better at controlling the raft and could turn our attention to . . .

The birds we saw: the Great Horned Owl (staring from a cave on the side of the river – the best sighting of the trip), red hawk, dippers, yellowtails, tanagers, Canada geese (plenty of them), mergansers, catbirds, crows, magpie, red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, Swainson thrush, chickadees, Sand hill crane, bluebirds, eagles, mallard ducks and, heard but not seen, wild turkeys.

The animals: Deer, beaver, one quick sighting of a bear by one member.

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The great campsites Laura had picked out: From Lower Scotty Allen to Lower Sunset Cliffs to Upper Parker Flats to Ridgetop. With all the accommodations of home (see above).

Sock drier
Chris’ sock dryer

To great food: The fresh vegetables the first night (always a treat on a camping trip in the wilds), the Spotter’s Everything but the Kitchen Sink Turkey Dish, Chris’ pasta with fresh asparagus and the smorgasbord the last night of ham, Madras lentils and leftover pasta (Indian spaghetti).

To an interesting incident on the last day that would have sent our Spotter crazy if it had happened to us (me, too) but seemed to be taken in stride by the party experiencing it: We spent our last night at Ridgetop, which was more crowded than our other camps. We got there early after two hours of rowing to cover eight miles on the river. Things went along peacefully until late afternoon when other campers showed up for the sites nearby us. It was the only campsite where we could even see other campers. In the middle of cooking our dinner, I started to hear music playing – not out here, please. As Chris said, “There goes the neighborhood.” He was down at the river and realized “Free Falling” by Tom Petty was coming from an orange raft floating down the middle of the river – and there was no one in the raft, Tom Petty or otherwise.

Then people came racing along the bank and just before the curve downstream, a man jumped in the river and tried to swim for the raft. Cold river, strong current and a runaway raft with the campers’ gear heading rapidly downstream. Not a good combination. The swimmer almost got a hold of the raft before it rounded the bend, went into the strong current on the far side of the turn (following the bubbles) and went sailing away. Fortunately, the swimmer made it to the other side of the river and climbed out.

A raft was rowed across the river to pick up the swimmer who would have to figure out how to get through the night with no gear. Another raft went by and asked what was going on. A loose raft. “The beer boat?” he asked. Yep. “That happens a lot.”

Amazed by the others in the party who didn’t seem too upset by all this. “Never leave your boat untied,” said Laura, another good piece of advice.

We found out at the take-out the next day that campers downstream heard the music, ran out to investigate and pulled the delinquent raft ashore. Thanks for the warning, Tom Petty.

We talked about the incident that night, and how terrified our Spotter would have been if that had happened to us. But through the talk, we came to the agreement that we could do this thing together again, no questions asked.

Spotter
The Spotter

Well, maybe one: Why, Ms. Terrified Spotter, did you agree to go on this trip?

“This,” she said,” is the last thing I would chose to do if I were not married to this idiot.”

Signed,

The Idiot

Camp resident

Waders