Friday, February 24, 2012

The Animals of a Pan

Hwange National Park, near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe was where I learned that the word, "pan", had several different meanings.  In that part of Africa, it is understood that a "pan" is a watering hole for animals.  During that drought-stricken summer I was in Zimbabwe, locating a pan that was not a dried circle of mud was a challenge. 

Leaving the our lodge early one morning, with our driver negotiating the nearly non-existent roads or choosing instead to go cross country bumping over dry and dusty terrain, we were on the quest to find a watering hole that actually had water.  Finding that treasure would mean we would see animals--animals of all kind and description--animals I had seen only in zoos prior to this African adventure. 

Hwange National Park had a system to help out in the years of drought when the watering holes became drier and drier and animals had to walk further and further for water.  In this huge national park, there were several wells which supplied water via pumps to a select number of pans.  It is for these pans that our driver headed.  However, too often we found that the machinery was not well maintained resulting in yet another dry pan. 

On our trek between pans, though, we did see animals and a lot of them--from giraffe eating away on the tops of acacia trees and graceful gazelle to scampering baboons and wandering zebra.  Oh, and did I mention huge herds of elephant? 

But it was at the pan that the wildlife congregated.

A giraffe bent in half with legs splayed and neck reaching to the water far below

A massive crocodile pulling itself through the soggy mud bank

A mischievous baboon cavorting about
A herd of zebra creating a dizzying black and white pattern

Two ostrich primping their feathers

The nostrils of a hippo appearing in the middle of the pool

Birds and more birds

And, splashing and trumpeting -- those most majestic of all beasts -- elephants! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

How Did The Deer Get To The Other Side?

They swam!  Several years ago when fishing for salmon off the coast of Alaska near Sitka, our group spotted two deer swimming across the strait between the mainland and a nearby island.  Our boat captain, on that horribly stormy and bitterly cold July day, explained that this was not an uncommon occurrence for deer in that part of Alaska.  He indicated there was no cause for alarm or even need for concern for the creatures. 

I hadn't thought about this deer spotting for years until, during a dinner conversation with a friend talking about odd animal behaviors, I remembered this deer encounter.  Upon telling the story, he thought it rather odd, but again reiterating what the boat captain had said, we decided it must not be odd behavior for a Sitka deer at all.

However, two days later he sent to me a link about deer from the same area of Alaska trying desperately to cross frigid Alaskan waters only to be rescued by a boat captain and taken ashore.  You can read the story by clicking on this link -- Swimming Alaskan Deer.

Was this the same deer family I had seen?  Another amazing wildlife story!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Best Sashimi Ever!

How was it that I tasted the best sashimi ever?  Well, long story short, that delectable taste of raw fish came after a long day of salmon fishing on the Rogue River.  But, just how did that fresh caught salmon find its way to our condo kitchen on a summer evening?

First, you need to have a friend who is an avid fisherman.  A friend who lives to fish.  And in particular, a friend who lives for salmon season and his chance to put his boat in at Gold Beach, Oregon to fish the mouth of the Rogue River.

One early early morning with the sun just starting to glint off the waves of the ocean and the riffles of the Rogue River, the boat was launched for a day of fishing for salmon on one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the US.   Rods, reels, bait, nets, ice chests....all were ready.  All the fish had to do was find our bait.  All we had to do was reel them.  Again, long story were caught.  Salmon were caught...very big salmon were caught!

Those very big salmon were weighed and proudly displayed for photo opportunities.  Long hours of patience had paid off.  Long hours of sitting in a bobbing boat had paid off.  The haul of the day was finally trundled off to the cleaning station where that delectable pink flesh was laid bare and the fish was filleted and made into steaks. 

Back at the condo those of us who had not actually sat for hours in a fishing boat but instead had taken a jet boat trip up the Rogue River for lunch at a rustic restaurant and a chance to view endangered wildlife along the protected part river, had the grill ready for those salmon steaks.

But wait!  I had just returned from Japan where I had eaten all sorts of sashimi -- raw fish of many kinds!  I suddenly realized what a delicacy had been hauled out of the Rogue River onto our kitchen counter--salmon sashimi!

What an evening!  The freshest and best salmon sashimi ever followed by the best grilled salmon steaks ever!  A rare treat!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Raw Octopus Anyone?

Sashimi is a Japanese delicacy. It consists of very fresh raw meat, most commonly fish, sliced into thin pieces.

I had my first "sashimi experience" in Tokyo, Japan following an organ concert I presented there.  The hosts of the concert had planned an elaborate reception following the concert at an exquisite restaurant.  A large group of musicians and music lovers made up the loud and celebratory party consisting of at least a dozen Japanese men, our interpreter, and two English speaking Americans.  Let the party begin!

Beautiful fish aquariums lined one wall of this incredible restaurant.  Fish swam in lazy circles creating an ever-moving wall of color.  Linen covered tables were surrounded by carved chairs and benches.  The group filed in, chose a seat, and soon drinks of all variety and steaming bowls of salted edamame appeared.  Delicious to be sure.

The conversation flowed around me yet I understood not a word.  Our interpreter was enjoying his Kirin immensely and had forgotten his non-Japanese speaking charges.  Food was ordered and ordered and ordered.  Plates and plates of interesting looking food arrived and the fun began.

Two of our hosts took it upon themselves to introduce me to the wonders of Japanese sashimi.  Through gestures and signs, I soon understood I was eating raw seafood of all sorts and types!  The taste was amazing--smooth, gentle, and flavorful.  All went well until the raw octopus arrived--at least by the gestures this is what I understood I was eating.  Suddenly it seemed that one of those sticky suction cups of an octopus arm had stuck to my throat--swallowing this large rubberband-like piece of raw octopus became a challenge.  More beer, swallow, more beer, swallow and swallow!  

As I relaxed into the evening's enjoyment, I took more notice of my surroundings.  Looking through the beautiful fish tanks, I realized the sashimi chefs were standing on the opposite side of the tanks creating their lovely sashimi and sushi delicacies.  I also became suddenly aware that as the evening progressed the aquariums were becoming less and less populated with gorgeous colorful fish as those sashimi chefs helped themselves to the fish (and octopus) to create what appeared on our plates in the form of sashimi -- very fresh raw fish sliced into thin pieces!