The Tortoise and The Hare (minus the hare)


Yesterday I had the pleasure of briefly revisiting a trip I made to the Galapagos Islands more than a decade ago courtesy of the San Francisco Zoo. They sponsored a talk by the Galapagos Conservancy, a non-profit organization which promotes conservation of these unique islands.

Sitting 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos are a treasure trove of life thanks to the cold enriched waters of the Humboldt Current. It was these islands which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. (If you enjoy non-fiction, Darwin’s travels are chronicled in “The Voyage of the Beagle.” And, if you like movies, be sure to catch Russell Crowe in “Master and Commander – the Far Side of the World” parts of which were filmed in Galapagos.)


Many things have changed since I had the pleasure of visiting, like the increase in the resident human population. Despite its remoteness, Ecuadorians can earn a higher standard of living than in much of mainland Ecuador, largely due to tourism – which is another huge impactor. Ecuador is working to regulate both and keep them sustainable.

The animals have seen drastic change as well, both good and bad. The long term project to restore the populations of giant tortoises on each island is going well (each island is home to a genetically distinct sub-species of tortoise). The eradication of invasive (introduced) species, like goats – which destroy the vegetation the tortoises feed on – has been declared successful on Pinta, Espanola, Floreana, Santa Fe, Santiago, and most of Isabela (the largest island).


On the other hand, a recent die-off of many marine iguanas has scientists worried. They are already investigating a decline in the Blue Footed Booby population. Though not endemic to the Galapagos – they are found elsewhere – this bird with its baby blue feet and comical mating dance is one of the islands many icons. And sadly, the most well-known icon, Lonesome George – the last surviving Pinta tortoise – was found dead on June 24, 2012, at the age of 100+. Read that line again. He was the LAST Pinta tortoise. They are now extinct.

I’m glad to have been able to see Lonesome George, yet sad others will not have the same pleasure. For safety reasons, George was kept at the research station (also for breeding with females of related sub-species, which was unsuccessful). It is sobering to stand at the edge of the tortoise pen and know that you are looking at the most unique creature you will likely ever encounter, the truest one of a kind to be found.

But not all is lost. Researchers continue their work to breed and release more tortoises to their native islands. And recently – and astonishingly – some hybrid tortoises have been discovered on Isabela’s Wolf Volcano who carry Pinta genes. So there is hope that Pinta can be re-populated with near relatives, although there will never again be another true Pinta tortoise. (If you’re wondering why one island’s tortoises would be found on another island, you can thank the sailors and whalers of yore. It’s well-known they captured and transported tortoises as a source of meat.)

Perhaps the next time I go, I’ll be able to see tortoises slowly lumbering through the scrubby brush on Pinta. And the marine iguanas, with their white salty snot coating their faces, will still be there.Image (They are the only lizard in the world which feeds underwater.)

Yes, of course I want to return. True, there are so many other places I want to visit as I’ve mentioned in other blogs. But the Galapagos are unique. And I have a thing for islands.

Zombie Rhyme Time

I love the English language. Yeah, it pisses me off sometimes, or maybe it’s just the way people abuse it, unaware that “there” “their” and “they’re” don’t mean the same thing and aren’t interchangeable. But I digress. I love the way we can play with English. Word games, riddles, rhymes, and puns. (My story “The Human Jean Gnome Project” is basically one long pun. You can find it in my e-book, “Gnomes and Aliens” on Kindle.) Really, is there a language sillier than English?

In that vein, and because I’ve had little time to ponder this week’s blog posting while I work on curing my chronic zombiefying migraines, I composed a couple of zombie rhymes for you:

As you cower in fear

of the undead far and near

Holed up in the local mall

armed with just a bowling ball

While tvs play old game shows

would it shock you all to know

that the gruesome zombie

only wishes to shop at Abercrombie.



Should the zombies catch you in Europe

surrounded by blubbering tourists

Just remember this old refrain

the brains in Spain lay mainly in the drain.

Words about Herbs (and Elderly Felines and Zombie Aliens)

ImageIt’s been a week (three treatments) since I turned to acupuncture as a means of defeating my chronic migraines. I can’t say it’s been a miracle cure, but I do feel more alert today with more energy and enthusiasm for the tasks of daily life. Certainly this could just be one of my good days (I have a few of those in any given month), but I’m not giving up because I’ve heard from friends, co-workers, even the veterinarian, to not expect fast results. Acupuncture tends to work quickest for recent and/or acute injuries (like whiplash from a car accident). For chronic, long-term conditions, it can take many treatments before results are realized.

So I will keep trying to balance my qi. (My acupuncturist tells me I’m very out of balance. Hmmm. I think many of my friends have long known that I’m off-kilter, eh?) To that end, he’s introduced me to traditional Chinese herbs.  I can’t tell you which herbs are in this mixture – I had a migraine when he told me what they were and don’t remember – but they do make a tasty tea. A warm, tasty tea for cold rainy winter days like today.

So this drizzly morning found me with a cup of steaming herb tea in my hands as I watched over my elderly Siamese cat to see if she would have a reaction to her first chemotherapy treatment (she has Intestinal Lymphoma) and reflected upon the two of us, both suffering our own pains. She can’t voice hers, but I can tell those moments when she’s not happy. However, today turned out to be a good day for her too.  After giving me the stink eye for sticking a pill down her throat, she curled up in her favorite laundry basket and went back to sleep. Image

I would usually be doing the same thing. No, not sleeping in the laundry basket. But rather, popping my own meds and curling up to go back to sleep, wasting away my weekend. Today, I ignored the familiar pain and pressure of someone drilling a hole in my skull and pressing their big fat thumb into the right side of my brain, and instead popped a favorite movie into the DVD player, Alien (the 1979 original).

Despite having seen Alien innumerable times, I caught a line I’d not heard before (or maybe just never paid attention to). Toward the beginning of the film, after the egg alien has deposited its egg inside Kane (John Hurt) and fallen off and died, Ash (Ian Holm) is examining it. While the others are still wary about the creature, Ash says something like “I doubt it’s a zombie.” (I can’t recall the exact line.) And for the first time in a long while I felt a little spark of creativity. I found myself imagining the Alien aliens as zombie aliens. As if they aren’t already hard to kill! Now you have to kill them again!

Too bad I don’t have rights to those characters. I could’ve run with that idea.

Needles and Pins

ImageI never before pictured myself as a pincushion, but there I was on my back, with tiny, thin needles in my feet, hands, and left ear. And a couple in my left leg.

If you’ve never tried acupuncture, it’s hard to describe the sensation of those little needles going in, but they don’t hurt. Except for the ones in my ear, and I gradually got used to those. What was weird – and painful – for me were the sensations inside my head as the acupuncturist chased the pain from one spot inside my brain to another with each needle insertion. Not that I’ve never before had headaches which moved around, but to feel them do so decisively at the behest of an outside influence is just, well, weird. Finally, the pain seemed trapped on the upper right side as the acupuncturist inserted one last needle and left the room, letting my body adjust and to heal.

The pain wasn’t finished of course. It had itself a merry little dance from the right side of my brain to the left, and back, settling into a strange-feeling patch of pressure around my right ear, and then back over to the left, before – perhaps with nowhere else to go – it slipped away, leaving my brain finally free. A stupendous feeling.

That may not seem like such a big deal to someone who suffers from only an occasional headache, but to a migraine sufferer or someone with chronic headaches or cluster headaches, having a pain-free brain sometimes feels like a miracle. Especially for me lately. These past few months have seen maybe five pain-free days each month, leaving me in a perpetual fog. Know what it’s like to feel as if your brain is wearing a wet fuzzy sock? I do. It’s especially frustrating for a writer like myself, with my ability to concentrate, to create, rapidly diminishing under the onslaught of pain and medication. This had become the norm for me. My brain had come to expect the pain, to look for it. Image

But I cannot let myself succumb to this new normal. Not only do I need to function in daily life, I also need to write. And that’s become increasingly harder as the months crawl by. (Hell, I haven’t even been able to muster enough motivation to read a book.) So I’ve decided to try something different, an alternative medicine which some people are skeptical about, but which others I know have had success in dealing with chronic pain and other issues. I’ve only had one treatment so far, and it’s not an instant cure, but I’m willing to try. I want to try. I want the old me back.

The pain won’t give up the fight easily. I can already feel it trying to worm its way back through my brain, trying to take over my life once again. But I can fight back. And I’m looking forward to a good fight!Image