Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Movin' On Up

Hello friends,

As great as Blogger has been, I'm finally putting on my big girl pants and moving on up to my own fancy schmancy new website:

Same Otter Down name, same random content, but now with new and improved bells with which to dazzle you while pimping myself out to nebulous Cyberland void of opportunity.

I hope you'll make the trip and subscribe.

Yours in otters,


Monday, April 1, 2013

A Color of the Sky

A Color of Sky 
Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
    when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn't make the road an allegory.

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I'd rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

Otherwise it's spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.

Last summer's song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

Last night I dreamed of X again.
She's like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I'm glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature's wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It's been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

--by Tony Hoagland

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The North Remembers

I'm not going to talk about spring. It is simply way too early for such talk in the mountains. Our environmental palette remains subtle: white, greys, blues, white, greens so dark they appear black... white. Our feet adjust to snow, ice, slush, snow, ice, slush. Our crocuses continue their dormancy. We don't hold our breath.

Last month some friends and I spent a long holiday weekend volunteering for the park's fisher DNA study (read about similar work here) assembling and re-bating old hair-collecting stations in Many Glacier, in hopes of detecting an animal who is hard to detect. This involved skiing into a backcountry cabin, getting pounded by wind and snow, and reveling in the rare pleasure of having the busiest part of the park all to ourselves. The trip reminded me of everything I love about winter--the smell of the cold caught in your hair, hands wrapped around a hot mug, fire crackling, fresh tracks on the snow, the way the landscape feels monochrome--and my mind returns to it on this misty, drizzly day.

Objects are as fuzzy as they appear
Four feet
Freshening the meat packet
Harvesting hair
Adding the love scent
And not a shanty in sight
Drip daggers
See you in spring...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Where the Science Goes

I am very happy to report that I shall be a regular writer for the excellent and nerdy mini-lecture video series The SciShow. If you like learning about bizarre phenomena, famous brainiacs, current science news, and super awesome stuff, check out the YouTube channel. Recent topics have included: What happens when a body is subjected to the vacuum of space, how birds get drunk in spring, the history of blood transfusions, meteorite hits and near misses, giant squids, spider rain, genetically modified foods, and what happens if identical twins procreate with identical twins.

Oh, and my very first scripted episode on Extreme! Animal! Cannibalism! (Don't worry, there is a little bit of brother-eating, but no bath salts are involved.) I'm super excited about this gig and to be part of such a curious and creative team. Upcoming assignments range from Explaining Gluten, to updates on Human Enhancement Technology, to Why Do Cats Purr? Hope you'll check in on occasion and get your learn on...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sting City

Ever wonder what it would feel like to hold a five-foot animate chicken cutlet? Curious about what an animal with a kisser like vacuum might look like? Want a little magic in your life? Fear no danger? Like getting mobbed by moving pancakes underwater? Appreciate flatness? Then I highly recommend you find a boat and make a sojourn to Stingray City, where the sea puppies live, and all your weirdo dreams can come true. I know mine did.

Southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana) can be found elegantly gliding around the ocean floor in tropical and subtropical waters from Jersey to Brazil. Their pectorals fins stretch out like stealth wings, trailing long, barbed tails behind. Diamond-shaped, their dorsal side is olive-hued and rough like a fleshy sandpaper, while their underbellies are a smooth, soft white. Their namesake stinger barb is tucked in about half way down their slim tails, and while its venom is not fatal to humans, a poke would sting like all hell. (Incidentally, Steven Irwin's fatal heart-sting freak accident was not at the fins of a southern ray.) 


This genial lot of wild rays hangs out at a large, naturally-occurring sandbar within a huge salt-water lagoon on the island's northwestern end, walled in by the barrier reef that rings the whole island. Apparently these usually solitary creatures cued in to a free meal years ago when they realized fisherfolk came to these shallow waters to clean their fish and toss the delicious guts overboard. And before you knew it hungry rays were coming out to the sound of boat engines like a flock of pancakes looking of syrup. Shortly there after, industrious humans realized they could make a buck by bringing animal-crazed tourists out to feed (mmm, calamari), pet, and generally love up on the now quite tame rays, and in the process make my decade.


Some of the rays have been coming around for years, like Rebecca, the biggest, oldest female, and Stumpy, who lost her tail, and Scarface of the distinct features... And when these gentle creatures whimple by, grazing your knee-backs and ruffling over your shoulders to hoover at the fish in your hand, you will not be able to cease laughing like a happy maniac, and you will fervently wish you were a mermaid just so you could keep one as a friend.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Terrapin Station

Well, technically you wouldn't call a sea turtle a terrapin, but tell that to Jerry. One of the best things we did on Grand Cayman was visit The Cayman Turtle Farm, a premiere breeding center for endangered green sea turtles. Chelonia mydas are dubbed green not for their outer color, but rather because the fat layer beneath their shell is green. For my part, let the record state I am uncertain if that means sort of a dull mossy green, or a bright, ectoplasm-type hue. Their range circles the globe in tropical and sub-tropical waters.

The breeding center is home to a number large, 500+ pound adult turtles who share a large saltwater lagoon equipped with a lounge studded with lava lamps, beaded curtains, soft lighting, and Barry White background music. No, that is a lie... but they are packed into a lagoon to facilitate orgies, I mean mating, but the lounge area is mostly just a sandy beach perfect for egg-laying. Mamas can lay 100-200 eggs in a go, and in the wild some may migrate as far as 1,6000 miles to reach their breeding grounds.

After incubating for a couple of months, tiny, adorable, bite-sized little baby turtles hatch in their sand pits and crawl their way to the sea. They are, as you may expect, extremely vulnerable to predators during the first several months of their lives, and get no help from mama, because she hit the road as soon as she buried her clutch. It is sad, but no surprise then, that only about one percent of the little turtlets make it to adulthood. This fact, combined with shoreline development (habitat loss), fishing net interference, predation (human and non-human), and the ill-effects of chemical pollution has served in securing the green sea turtle a spot on the Endangered Species list. In 2007 the green was also granted international protection under CITES.

Since its inception in 1968, the Cayman Turtle Farm has bred and released over 31,000 yearling turtles into the wild, and is the first facility to successfully release second generation greens (those bred, laid, hatched, and reared in captivity). Last year the center released the first of its satellite-tagged turtles, and now monitors individual movements via space technology and wizardry.


It is an incredible feeling to take a yearling in hand. Their shell pattern is delicate and unbelievable bright and crisp, a sunburst or seed husk painted on with a thin brush. Their front flippers are surprisingly strong, and tug at fingers hooked in armpits. You can soothe them with a gentle stroke of the chin. Mostly they casually drift around through the water, but are capable of zooming off at 30mph when they want a change of scenery. 

They are impossible not to root for.

Monday, February 11, 2013

He Hath Founded It Upon The Seas

Yesterday I returned from a lovely week of sand, sea, family, and rum on Grand Cayman. Returned to the snow, naturally, with the ocean still in salting my hair. This here is the first installment of usual suspects encountered. All were quite congenial. Except for the cockroaches, who shall remain nameless.

A wee crablet
Demonstrating the power of suction, and creepin'

Went a courtin'

Dove Rae Me

Nice beret, Luc

Still life with Chuckles

The long shanks

And now she's blushing

Just another goth kid

Forget something, blue-throated anole?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mephitis Mephitis

Yesterday we were heading into the Park for a ski, when lo! my day was made by a special wildlife sighting. Naturally I have seen a savage number of poor roadkill skunks over the years, and even the sad and smelly remains of some in Yellowstone wolf scat, but surprisingly, I've only ever seen one live individual in the wild. Until yesterday... when we saw this little duffer loping over snowdrifts between lake shore and road.

Le Pew
My first thought, well, it wasn't so much a cohesive thought so much as a bombastic emotional reaction/squeal of pure glee, was look! A skunk! A skunk! So fuzzy! Look! Look! That bushy tail! Skunk! My second thought was more akin to, Must. Get. Out. Of. Truck. Must. Get. Close. To. That. Fuzzy. And soon enough I was out of the vehicle, jogging along next to the skunk for a few hundred meters, grinning in breathless delight. Some of you may question my judgement, but let me remind you that while they see and hear quite nicely, skunks have pretty terrible eyesight, and the little guy could barely see me. (This poor vision is partially to blame for all those fatal automobile encounters.)

Just look at those little pink slippers!
My third thought was that Walt Disney is a liar. Remember in Bambi, when Flower gets all sleepy and goes into hibernation for the winter? Yeah, well, that just wasn't jiving with Mr. Bushypants here. Striped skunks don't actually hibernate. They go into a state of torpor--a generally inactive, denned up period of rest, though they may come above ground a couple of times to poke around and empty their scent glands. Also, Walt, deer don't get twitterpated in spring, okay. They mate in the fall. Do your homework.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Make No Little Plans

Oh, Shedd Aquarium, how I've missed wandering among your wonders...

A little white whale on the go.
Hardly scaling back.
Not your typical sea monkey.
Sauron's got nothing on this one.
Peep show.
Flotsam or Jetsam?
Dude knows how to lurk. 
Check out the big brain on Brad!
Caimans can creepers.
Animated doilies?
Ruffle your bustle.
Medusa. Sea nettle. Jelly bonnet. Bloom.
Flapper fringe.
Dance of the Sugar Plum Faerie.
Roxanne, you don't have to wear that dress tonight.
Look familiar?
Do not disturb.