​I saw an article about several tour companies ceasing to offer elephant rides as part of tours overseas. This is such good news for animal lovers…and of course the elephants in question. Apparently incredible cruelties are used to make elephants docile and submissive enough for tourists to ride them, as well as other ways they are used for entertainment. Though I didn’t know anything about methods used to make elephants suitable for human “enjoyment” until I recently read a little about the subject in passing, I formed strong feelings about elephants in captivity a long time ago.

It was a typical American zoo. Many fascinating exhibits showcasing animals most of us would never see in person, if these exhibits didn’t exist. The animals seemed well cared for and content.

Except for one.

There was one special place that was a magnet for the eager and adventurous zoo goer. Elephant Rides! A relatively large enclosure was set up in a dry, dusty area. It reminded me of the horse riding rings many small towns had when I was a child. People would trailer their horses in, so they could ride around and around a churned dirt field, essentially showing off their horsemanship to anyone interested enough to sit on bleachers in the hot sun, eating popcorn and drinking sweating cups of what was colloquially known as “co’ dranks”. The horse riding rings were enclosed in fences made up of posts and rough planks. The elephant riding dust pit was ringed by a fence made of metal poles and bars.

Like many people I love animals and want to be as close to them as possible. So I went with eagerness, excitement, and a modicum of fear to check out the elephant ride area. Several people waited in line, as a woman who looked like she couldn’t decide whether to laugh or throw up was assisted in mounting the very large lone elephant who waited to be humiliated yet again.

Yes, humiliated. Elephants have very expressive faces, oddly since their features aren’t as mobile as ours. As this female elephant, who might have been a proud matriarch in another time and place, stood stoically waiting for the signal to move, I was drawn to her eyes. They were the saddest eyes imaginable. I didn’t notice how she was handled or treated. It was as if I had fallen into a deep, sucking well of quiet dispair. She looked my way and I felt guilty for even standing near her static torture. I wanted to hug her. To whisper in her great, flopping ear that she was loved. Respected. A subject of awe. 

All I could do for her, as she was urged into motion, her passenger gaining the thrill of a lifetime at the expense of a lifetime of captivity, was make absolutely sure that she would carry one less person on her regal back that day. Very near tears, I turned and walked away. 

Obviously, the memory of that brief encounter has never left me. I had loved zoos and wildlife parks up until that day. Honestly, I still do to an extent. However much I dislike even the idea of wild animals in captivity, I also recognize the value of often rare opportunities to see living, breathing gorgeous-even-if-they’re-ugly creatures in habitats as close to their natural environments as possible. I don’t know how many people actually appreciate and understand the privilege of seeing an elephant’s eyelashes sweep across the orb of its gaze, a baby giraffe’s delicate spotted neck, or the rippling muscles beneath a zebra’s stripes, but if even one in a thousand zoo goers left a conservateur it would be one more person who understands the sense of responsibility and respect that needs to accompany admiration, even adoration of wildlife.

Some might say I think too much. I say many don’t think enough. Elephants are intelligent creatures, loving and loyal with their families and friends. They mourn their dead and sacrifice for the greater good. I will always remember the nobility of that gaze, the dignity of her stance, and compare her visible innate qualities so favorably against the conduct and demeanor of her passenger. There is no doubt which one I’d rather have for a friend.

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Being rather fond of koalas, purple or not, I just had to share this People article about a koala that accidentally took a car trip in Australia. In a wheel well. Clinging to an axel. I love the Mad Max headline. It was the picture that caught my attention. The poor thing looked singed and stunned, but still adorable. Made me want to hug it, though I learned at Featherdale Wildlife Park in the Blue Mountains that you need to be kind of wary of them. They get eucalyptus oil on their claws, which can be bad for us nonfurry types if they scratch our skin. Thus the way they were handed over to eager huggers perched on a pillow they clung to instead of their human admirers. Apparently, they can have a bad day like we do. A popular one wasn’t allowed into the public area when I was there, because it was cranky. On the upside they smell slightly of eucalyptus and are generally just as sleepy, sweet, and adorable as they look in pictures. Sometimes I think the best life possible would be to live in New South Wales and have a tree full of koalas in the back yard. As long as you check your wheel wells before driving off. 

http://people.com/pets/mad-max-marsupial-koala-goes-on-wild-ride-through-australia-after-crawling-into-car/

Today would have been my mom’s 98th birthday. To commemorate the occasion I have one of her stories that makes me smile.

One day when she’s a little girl, she follows her mother around the house, helping with chores as much as she can. They hear a clatter from outside, and Grandmother sighs wearily. A peek around the curtains reveals the last thing a tired housewife wants to see. Honest John, a traveling salesman with a route that brings him to Miss Georgie’s door more often than she’d like. With a house full of children and a tight budget, temptation can be a curse. Even in the form of a walking store.

In no mood to be forced into roles as both hostess and reluctant shopper, this always (almost) sweet and welcoming housewife turns to her little daughter, bends low so as not to be misunderstood, and whispers into the small ear. “It’s Honest John! C’mon, Sarah. Let’s hide!”

A little shocked and a lot thrilled, by the unexpected game, Sarah takes her mother’s outstretched hand and creeps quietly with her across the big stretches of floor, until they reach the kitchen. They carefully pull out chairs and sit at the big wooden table where the family shares meals, celebrations and, apparently, sudden impromptu clandestine adventures.

The thing about impromptu clandestine adventures is that, not being well thought out, they they tend to fail. 

Not for lack of trying. 

Miss Georgie holds a finger to her lips, Little Sarah suppresses a stray giggle, and they relax, certain their unwanted visitor will soon leave. 

A knock at the front door.

Silence.

A second, more insistent knock.

“Miss Georgie?”

Breath-holding quiet blankets the house.

The conspirators share a smile. Surely, he’s halfway down the road, now that he’s given up….

“Good afternoon, Miss Georgie!”

Miss Georgie and Little Sarah nearly jump out of their chairs.

There stands Honest John, at the kitchen window, grinning at them through the screen. 

Of course, he is graciously invited in and most likely soon clutches a welcome glass of iced tea. He carries his wares on his circuit in a large case, which he opens and begins his well practiced presentation. 

Miss Georgie, of course, must buy something, as she knew would be the case, so Honest John’s persistence is rewarded with quenched thirst and the sale of a thimble.

Little Sarah is rewarded with a charming memory, complete with a suppressed giggle, that still carries a smile after almost a century has passed.

(An aside: My mom was a very mischievous child. Her older sister wanted to take a nice picture of just her mother, but my mom was determined to be in it too and kept sneaking in. No matter how many times she was chased away. She eventually achieved perfect timing, which resulted in my favorite picture of them together.)

Until recently I didn’t know Art Glass lamps existed. Probably a good thing for my pocketbook. I saw this one at Pier 1 months ago, but $100 was more than I was comfortable paying. Especially for something I could easily drop in the store parking lot and shatter into Art Glass particles.

A few days ago I went in and there it glowed, beckoning me closer. Beckoning even more strongly, like a static blinking neon sign, was the clearance price tag.

In keeping with most glass, it looks different in different light. Which makes it extremely decorative, as well as functional.

Sold!

An unexpected bonus I didn’t realize until I got it home is that its colors go perfectly with the purples and blues of the upholstery of my greatgrandmother’s Victorian Fainting Bed that just happens to be conveniently near the lamp table set to be its new home. 

Serendipity.

Sometimes my Art Glass obsession threatens to get me into trouble. Like when I covet a pricey piece of too fragile beauty. But then, when all my shopping stars align just right, my love of bargain hunting intervenes. So, now my living room will be brightened not just by the turn of a switch, but also the kind of accessible beauty that transforms an otherwise simple lamp into an extraordinary work of art.

​Rare eye conditions make me more cautious than most about what I look at and how I do it. Which means I would have gone into my yard or looked out a window on Monday to see the day dim and darkness fall.

Except for the presence of my also rare best friend in my life. 

She insisted we experience the eclipse together, drove hundreds of miles to make it happen, and gave me a running commentary as near totality progressed.

We traveled an hour and a half from my home to a place within the eclipse path, yet not quite in totality. Though we expected total, or near total darkness, the extreme twilight we experienced was something very special in its own right.

Even as a creative writer, I can’t adequately describe those thrilling moments. It was, of course, a visual experience, where everything turned a gloomy, eerie grayish, bluey…unnatural other. It was almost like a brand new type of photographic filter had been placed over the sun. 

We expected a 360 degree sunset and felt a bit disappointed when full light eased back onto the world without pitch dark occurring, yet the all around twilight that ringed the horizon was impressive in its own right. At one point I tried to lift my sunglasses to see how dim it really was, then was reminded by the way they felt that I had already switched to my regular glasses.

The most impressive aspect of that phase was the way we felt during the time of very dim light. A few words come close to describing it–eerie, othery…wrong.

There was an element of disorientation that makes me, as a science loving layman, wonder if there is a physical layer of our relationship with our star that we can’t​ be aware of when it’s shining brightly upon us. We felt perfectly normal again, after those precious seconds passed, but the memory of so brief a time will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Since I reluctantly gave up the opportunity to watch the sun, even through eclipse glasses, my friend gave me a running commentary of what she was seeing. That was the next best thing and gave me a remarkable experience I would otherwise have missed.

As I waited for darkness that didn’t quite fall, eager to see stars come out during the day, I got my wish in a more minor way. One bright, bright star appeared, then another. Stars shining brightly in daytime is awe inspiring, even when they are two. 

This was not like when the moon comes out at normal twilight and Venus is nearby…a tiny white dot against the blue of the sky. The eclipse stars were bigger and brighter than any I’ve ever seen. 

If ever there was a time to wish upon a star, eclipse day was the one. 

The biggest and brightest rode the faded sky near a big puffy cumulus cloud, making me think of the DreamWorks logo.

Something else that made the eclipse extra special was that we were in a McDonald’s parking lot. The store closed for a half hour for the experience, and the young employees were extremely excited about it. 

They gathered a few cars from us and when totality hit they cheered as if the home team had scored a touchdown, which made it more of an event. The area we chose had a few small groups scattered about, watching with muted awe. Families, individuals, and at least one obvious pair of grandparents, ushering grandchildren into the world of science and astronomy and our remarkable universe. 

Since I’m also extremely sensitive to heat, I was worried about traffic logjams. There were a lot of dire, appocalyptic gridlock warnings ahead of time that put the fear of Henry Ford in me. 

When the eclipse was over, we immediately headed toward home, with a stop for a late lunch along the way. The hour drive to the restaurant was fine. There was a bit more traffic, but nothing I wasn’t used to driving during normal rush hour. 

Then we tried to leave after we ate. Uh. No. I had to get us across just one of the three oddly configured lanes, but it proved to be a mini ordeal. A four way stop was funneling  suddenly expanded traffic into that one crucial lane and timing it so there was never quite enough room to slip between cars. Eventually, a slightly larger gap appeared to allow just enough time to get on the road again.

As we looped around to head home we passed the highway we’d come in on and there was the near gridlock I’d been concerned about. It looked as if it could soon become a total travel nightmare, and I thanked my lucky literal stars from earlier in the day that we’d left right after the eclipse. It enabled us to say we experienced the full total eclipse package, but with the traffic nightmare aspect from a tiny distance.

So you never know what real friendship may bring into your life. Because of her I was able to experience the 2017 eclipse in a richer and more unforgettable way than I would have on my own…on the day two stars came out for two friends who love the night sky and witnessed that night sky come briefly into an amazing day.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/08/22/ten-surprises-for-scientists-and-skywatchers-during-the-total-solar-eclipse/#3dedb8bc2ba6

​Not letting critics put me off a movie was a good thing when I watched Passengers. I really loved it, except for the early part staying too long on just one character. Apparently a lot of people complained about that, so it’s not just me.  Otherwise, it’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year. It’s sweet and romantic, yet still actiony that’s at times terrifying, all the sf colonization stuff is so, so cool, the ship is so awesome that I want to travel on it, and the ethical question at the movie’s center is fascinating. Chris Pratt is moving as Jim, especially while agonizing over whether to remain alone, then still wrestling with a combination of guilt and pure joy for much of the movie. Jennifer Lawrence displays a gamut of emotions, as Aurora endures different but equally brutal decisions. Michael Sheen’s robotic bartender adds enjoyable comic relief, with an accompanying touch of pathos. Lawrence Fishburn? What more need I say? He’s Lawrence Fishburn! As the movie unspooled, it reminded me of the final Futurama finale, which is a real compliment from me. Cautiously watching Passengers turned out to be an unexpected delight…the kind I can only wish happened more often.

Passengers Official Trailer

My Moto Z Play takes decent video, so I’ve been experimenting. Honestly, though, I got a Nikon Long Zoom late last year that’s even better and I don’t remember which one I took this with. I got out of my car last spring and noticed the soothing ripples water dripping off the edge of the roof was making in a puddle. The dripping sound, the birds singing, along with the green grass and little wildflower made it a charming micro scene. Fortunately, this particular nine seconds didn’t manage to capture a dog’s frantic and intrusive barking. I’m working on holding the camera perfectly steady, but I think this is a pretty good job for a newbie.