Tag Archives: nature

30 Days of Beauty – day 19

A teensy, tiny yellow bird zooming through green cedars.


Has anything caught your eye lately?

30 Days of Beauty: An exercise in writing and recognizing the things that make my soul giggle and sing.


30 Days of Beauty – day 15

Moving as one with my horse. When I ask for something and he understands right away, it’s like the perfect partnership. Just pure harmony.

30 Days of Beauty: An exercise in writing and recognizing the things that make my soul giggle and sing.

Hawaii: Volcanoes

OMG! I totally forgot to finish this post! And seeing Kilauea is really worth a blog! Ok, the science stuff first: Kilauea is one of 5 and half volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. There is a great explanation of them here. In fact, the USGS is the best source of info on Kilauea and gives updates on eruptions and seismic activities here. Kilauea is by far the most active volcano and gives the best showing. In case you are wondering, the “half” volcano is the new baby one just offshore to the south of the Big Island – stick around a few hundred years for its birth!

Now the tourist stuff: check before you go to see what’s open and what isn’t. They sometimes close down driving and hiking paths depending on what the volcano gods are doing. Or, on a plus side, they will also tell you when lava is flowing and you may get lucky and see the night lava flowing into the ocean. Driving up to the visitor’s centre is a lay-by where you can pull over and stick your face in some steam vents (travel tip #76: some facials are free). And in this harsh environment, don’t forget to stop and appreciate the flowers that have fought to survive here.

Steam Vents at Layby

Wild Ochids

However, the visitor’s centre viewing platform is almost always open, but is not always manned. However, if the lava is flowing, not to worry, the busloads of tourists will keep you company. The visitor’s centre itself is great. Really good displays and explanations although the gift shop closes early and was  a little heavy on the books. The really neat part of the centre were the seismographs. If you watched closely, you could see when there was seismic activity and then run out and see the lava lake glow. When I was there, there was loads of seismic activity, but no spewing lava – just a fiery red glow that was mesmerizing to watch. Last tip: it gets cold – bring long trousers or track pants and a sweater.

The cauldren at Kilauea   Lava at Kilauea

Getting close to the hot stuff!

Hawaii: Favourite Fish

Ok, this took much longer to put together than I thought. There’s very little I could think to say about the fish I saw in Hawaii. It would be a pretty boring blog of “really, really, pretty!” or “ooooh, love the colours!”, or “hmmm, reminds me of so and so at work”, etc, etc. So instead, I’ve labelled the fish I have photos of, in latin AND Hawaiian AND English (brownie points for me!) and put my comments in the captions! (you have to click on them to see the comments) All photos courtesy of my uncle who wouldn’t give up his camera even thought it refused to take pictures of fish in motion….. Note that the identification would not be possible without the well worth it purchase of “The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes” by John Hoover. It really was the ultimate and I recommend it if you are even a little bit curious about what you see in the ocean. It is so ultimate that the biologists recommended it to me and the bookstore staff knew it immediately even though I couldn’t remember the title or author!

Hawaii: TURTLES!

I love animals – usually fuzzy ones …. but thought it would be cool to see aquatic ones on this vacation. The first turtle I saw was actually while I was snorkeling for the first time and saw it in the water, at a reef, feeding on the rocks and it was amazing! Here was an animal so different than anything else I had ever seen; so close that I had to work NOT to touch it and completely not caring that I was right there.  Despite the ungainliness of the turtle on land and let’s face it, this animal is not known for agility and grace, but it is very agile and graceful in the water.

To photograph the turtle in the water…well, I have no idea what to tell you. The  underwater cameras that we tried are too slow and the turtles tend to come to feed later in the afternoon when the tide is coming in and the water is not calm. Additionally, the water tended to be murkier at these times and then you throw in all the sand that people were kicking up watching the turtles and the amateur cameras could not handle the low light. So, if anyone knows of some underwater photography tips in less than ideal conditions, let me know! What I did is take a lot of pictures out of the water.

Out of Water experience #1

What I did notice is that in the rougher water, when the waves got big enough to BE a wave at the shore and not just rough water, the front of the wave creates a looking glass effect and if the turtle is there, you can get a shot from out of the water. I showed one such shot in this post and here’s another one. (I absolutely promise you that there is a turtle there and not something else)

Through the looking glassOut of Water of experience #2:

Photo tip #5: know your animal. Turtles need to breathe air and so they pop up every once and awhile and you can see their little heads above the water. Sounds easy, right? Well, even though turtles need to breathe, they don’t need to breathe as much as we do so you may be waiting a loooonnnggg time and then SNAP! be ready to take the photo quickly. If you can do that, you end up with cute periscope photos.

It's a nose!Periscope!


Out of Water experience #3

OR, you could just take the easy way out and catch ’em on the beach!! Please respect the rules though – stay well away from the animals (they may not look upset, but they may be just hiding their ninja personalities, remember?) and be mindful about letting them do what they do (even if they are just sunbathing, that’s their relaxation time, no?)

Different angle Yup, definitely done. Ahhhh, sunshine Wave chasing turtle ok, I think this one is done!

oh, and it looks like my uncle did capture ONE photo underwater!  (trust me it really is just one out of hundreds and hundreds!)

One of a thousand shots

Review: Blue Sea Cruises and a Night out with Ray

Was I crazy?

The setup: I had just learned to swim (see here) and had just snorkeled out too far and scared myself (see here) by running out of breath about, oh, 200 metres from shore.

The adventure: Get in the water, at night, with a giant Kona manta ray.  This is apparently, one of the highlights of visiting the Big Island – you can swim with a weird and wonderful sea creature (there are diving trips too).

My thought process: “wow! I’ll never have this chance again! This is so cool, I have to do this! Surely they haven’t lost anyone yet!? And these rays don’t have stingers or barbs, right?” Obviously, my priorities might be different than some people’s.

The verdict: yeah, maybe just a bit crazy. I apparently don’t mind putting myself in situations where the risk-consequence factor is high (as opposed to the risk-probability factor), but I still will detour around big spiders and cockroaches who are more afraid of me than I am of them (or so I’m told – I never really believed that one)

Best quote (from the Captain in an attempt to reassure us): “There’s nothing in the ocean at night that wasn’t there during the day.” I’m not sure if that made me more afraid of snorkelling in the day or more interested in seeing the ocean at night……

Yes, I did it. I got in the water with my safety floating noodle and entrusted my life to a couple of college kids and some plastic piping framework. And it was totally worth it.

I chose to go with Blue Sea Cruises after researching the whole thing. Just like the whale watching boats, I’m afraid that the industry has taken off and you will always have those that play fast and loose with the rules. Blue Sea Cruises avoids all that by going out later – after most of the others have gone out and taking less chances with their guests and not crowding the animals. Once company lets you paddle around by yourself which sounds exciting at the time, but when there are up to 10 boats all clustered around the same area and a ton of people in the water, it starts to get a bit sketchy. Blue Sea really took care of all of us beginners and I felt totally confident with them and I had a great time.

We’ll skip the bit where I was nervous and the bit about people getting seasick (only one person) and the bit about suiting up in a wet suit (something that simply cannot be done elegantly) and move on to the interesting bits. As we were getting into the water, I’m looking at the plastic frame that the lights are on and that we all hang onto around the edges. I see a white spot under the light which I think is a reflection. When I put my head down, I see that’s no light! That’s a flipping 10 foot manta ray! (the Captain said it was probably over 10 feet)

When you put your head in the water to snorkel, your world changes. And when that new world is filled with a creature that is bigger than you, moves quicker than you and is far more powerful than you, that is an awe-inspiring sight. It’s not quite the same when you are standing on dry land looking into an aquarium.

The Manta would swim up to the surface where the light was and gracefully arch it’s back and do a loop-di-loop, showing us it’s underbelly with a little remora fish hanging on.

Once or twice it would go to the bottom and pivot on a wing tip so we could see the grey shadings on its back. A few of us got bumped by its wingtip (my uncle almost lost his camera! thankfully, he didn’t so that I could get these photos for you to see!) which was considered getting “kissed”!

If you’ve ever gone on safari or encountered a large wild animal where they are clearly in charge, you may have felt the same things I did. We are puny little physical things and there are forces ever so much bigger than us….how you choose to greet those forces is what will make you just that much bigger. Happy Adventuring!

First Hawaii Goal – Snorkel (and Don’t Drown)

Hawaii, specifically snorkeling in Hawaii, was my goal for taking swimming lessons (that, and not drowning).  Two months before my vacation, I couldn’t swim. Two weeks before my vacation, I could technically swim; or, as I liked to say, I took a lot longer to drown. However, I succeeded! By success I meant that when I got to Hawaii, I wasn’t afraid to go into the water up to my neck even when the lifeguard kept calling out when a strong wave would break over the barrier and be coming towards us. I put that rented snorkelling gear on and dunked my head into the water. Yay! What was even MORE fun was that I actually saw fish!!!! I saw so many fish, I had to get a book. The one I really remember that day was the bright yellow one and the black ninja one. The 4 months of very expensive swimming lessons in a cold condo swimming pool pushing little kids (and the occasional adult) out of the way was totally worth it.

Snorkeling, for those of you who haven’t tried it, is like going on safari with wild animals who are less likely to bite and eat you. If you haven’t gone on safari, it’s like being in a zoo without cages while flying. Not everyone loves it. When I went night snorkeling with the manta rays, I met 2 people who were very uncomfortable with knowing exactly what was under them. But the combination of fish body shapes, colours, behaviours and species is astounding!

The “don’t drowning” part came into play as I recognized my limits. You don’t actually have to know how to swim to snorkel – because when snorkelliing, you just float. You can even use the floating noodles if you like. So as I merrily floated and paddled my way out to where there were actual coral (and therefore, more types of fish), I didn’t realise that there was still loads of effort involved and even if you could breathe while under water, it was still possible to run out of breath! At that point, I turned back and saved the lifeguard a trip out to get me.

Snorkeling rules:

  • don’t feed the fish (for a whole load of reasons, but mainly because they are WILD animals)
  • don’t stand on the coral (we’ve killed enough by now, don’t you think?)

The photos below were taken by my Uncle R who needs a much better underwater camera

Mother Nature Packs a Punch

And I’m not talking about the windstorm that nearly destroyed my car and would have killed me if it had been 1 inch closer. No, this is the subtler-sneak-up-on-you kind. You go along in life and once in awhile stop and smell the roses or admire the way everything’s green in the spring or crisp and white in the winter. And then you turn a corner (literally) and get a shock. There I was, riding my horse, slipping down this slope behind the barn that leads to a little valley with a stream running through it (sounds really picturesque, right?). As Larry (the horse) and I start down the slope, there are two fat blue jays flitting just ahead of us from tree to tree like an honour guard to escort us. Near the bottom, we pull clear of the trees that line the path and we can see out to the valley and an absolutely gorgeous white tail deer some into view about 30 feet away bounding just to our left and a bit ahead. Well, you can’t get more pristine nature than this. This is truly a wake up and smell the granola scene while wearing your birkenstock sandals and your organic cotton pjs. But what was going through MY head as Larry came to a dead stop on the rocky slope and his head went up and ears went forward was “please, please, please don’t drop your shoulder, whirl, and through me on the ground, cuz that’s going to hurt!” – seriously, a lot can go through a girl’s head in moments like these. Thankfully, my horse is old enough that he thinks antics like those take far too much energy these days. He actually listened to me to move forward (towards the scary-horse-eating deer) off the rocks onto the grass. To the non-riders out there, this doesn’t mean that Larry wasn’t still thinking about bolting back to the barn, but at least if I fell off, the grass would hurt less (theoretically). I will give Larry some credit in that the deer was very large (the biggest I’ve seen on the property) and very loud (I never knew deer make a coughing sound reminiscent of old Chinese guys just as they clear their throats ready to expel …. well, never mind, mucus is involved in that story) and could very well have taken my poor horse in a fight. What was the point of this post again? oh yeah, that while we weekend warriors think ourselves fairly close to nature, every once in awhile, it sends something our way that slaps you upside the head and says “pay attention!”  I hope I never miss those moments.

Travel: Safari animals-antelopes and others

K, I couldn’t just leave it at beautiful scenary and hair-raising stories about getting to the park! I had to get some animals in there. Travel tip #16: when photographing animals, set your camera to take fast pictures.

One of the first antelopes we saw was this 2-toned one. I’m sure our guide knew the species (he literally knew everything we could ask), but I’ve forgotten what it was. I’m almost sure it’s a Topi.

Then of course, we ran across some springy springboks. You really can’t imagine their springiness until you see it in person. It was too fast for me to capture as we literally saw them for less than a minute as they raced across the road in front of us. See the brown specks in the photo?

And it wouldn’t be complete with a gnu or two. We saw a number of Gnu (or Wildebeest) herds as we were there on the tail end of the migration. Although, as our guide pointed out, the animals didn’t read the guidebooks and they go where and when the food and water are there. While the gnus are quite strange and ugly creatures, they are impressive in a herd.

However, you usually ran across them with Zebras. We were told that they ran together because the animals looked for different things like water and they preferred different grasses (long and short) so it was an advantageous partnership.


Meow! Here kitty, kitty, kitty.

Switching it up a bit today. This is another of my favourite pictures from my portfolio and it’s not of a horse. Note, I had to zoom way out to get this short, hence the vignetting. Let’s just say I was praying that the windows of the car could roll up fast!