Thursday, March 30, 2017

Baby Fiona: Here's a Dose of Happiness

Image source:

Dear George,
Few things give me as much pleasure these days as baby Fiona.  For those outside the Cincinnati area, Fiona is a two-month old hippopotamus born to parents Bibi and Henry at our zoo on Jan. 24, 2017.  Thanks to wonders of the modern age, the zoo has provided video updates on Fiona’s progress since her birth.  She was six weeks premature, and her early life was precarious.  The previous lowest recorded birthweight for a hippopotamus newborn had been 54 pounds, but Fiona only weighed 29.  Unable to stand to nurse from her mother, she was tube-fed in early weeks and only started regular bottle feeding in late February.  The zoo staff has given Fiona 24/7 care since her birth.  The wonderful news is that Fiona has made steady progress with her human care and is doing better every day.  Fiona reached 101 pounds on March 21.  She spends time in her pool about five times a day, and she’s more and more adept moving about her enclosure.  To see Fiona in action, search “Fiona Cincinnati Zoo” on YouTube, and you will get a couple dozen videos: Fiona feeding, napping, floating in her pool, splashing about, playing with toys, running in her cage, stretching her jaws, eating hay, and enjoying life.  I hope you’ll try one or two.  I can’t think of a better pick-me-up for a rainy spring day. 

SOURCES: “Hippy baby arrives six weeks early — Cincinnati zoo staff providing critical care for premature calf” (Jan. 24. 2017); “Hippo Baby Fiona Updates” (Jan. 25, 2017).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Beauties

Dear George,
We’ve had an unusually mild winter.  No big snowstorms — actually, hardly any snow at all -- and no ice on the sidewalks.  But we’re still patiently waiting for spring.  It went up into the 60’s for a week, the magnoliias opened up, and then the frost came back and did them in.  In place of the great outdoors I went to the annual spring show at the Krohn Conservatory.  It’s called “Blooms on the Bayou” and has a New Orleans theme, featuring camellias, tulips, and hyacinths.  Here are some flower photos to help put one in a spring mood.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sweet Sophie: The End of Our Sheepdog Lives

Dear George,
Our Old English Sheepdog era has come to its end.  We lost Mike and Duffy over a year ago, but we’ve been lucky to still have had regular doggie time with their younger sister Sophie (owned by our friend Donna).  The three dogs were a pack throughout their lives, going on frequent outings to Miami Whitewater Forest and elsewhere, and Sophie has been a regular visitor to our house since puppyhood.  Donna called me last Saturday (March 11) to see if I were available to help take Sophie to the vet.  Sophie hadn’t eaten for three or four days, had drunk very little, had diarrhea, and was very lethargic.  The vet suggested that she was approaching her life’s end, and Donna made the hard decision to have her euthanized.  Lot of tears.

Donna asked what was special about March 11, Sophie’s last day, and the one thing I thought of was that the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was going on in downtown Cincinnati.  When I googled St. Patrick a little later, it turned out that he had been kidnapped by pirates as a teenager and had spent six years as a sheepherder.  There are dozens of greeting cards with St. Patrick and his Old English Sheepdog on the Web.  The next day I joined Donna for a hike in Eden Park because we always took the dogs there each spring to see the magnolias in bloom.  The temperature had dropped to nineteen on the night that Sophie died, and all the magnolia blossoms had died as a consequence.  It felt as though the magnolia gods were also grieving.  

Sophie was a great pleasure to Donna and to everyone else she came in contact with.  She was a very smart dog, very loving, playful, and loyal.  She adored Donna, and she felt at home at our house too.  Sophie stayed with us every now and then when Donna made family trips to Nashville, and it has always been a treat to have her in the house.  Our experiences with sheepdogs will stick in our memories forevermore.  Here are a few pics from the last several years which are reminders of Sophie’s many looks.

Friday, March 10, 2017


Dear George,
One of my favorite words during my college years was “ennui”. defines it as: “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest.”  I’d sort of forgotten about this excellent term until recently when I started reflecting on my emotional state of emptiness and sudden need for naps.  I’ve been unable to put my finger on the source of these feelings until I started thinking about what my typical day is like.  It goes as follows:

  • 9:30-ish:  Read the latest Trump news in the Cincinnati Enquirer.  
  • 10 to 6:  Check Google News 3 or 4 times during the day to get Trump updates. 
  • 5:30:  Read all the New York Times stories and editorials about Trump.  
  • 6:30: Watch NBC News for Trump news.
  • Evening: Check MSNBC or CNN off and on for Trump critiques.
  • 11:00: Watch the Daily Show for Trump satire.
  • 11:35: Watch Stephen Colbert’s monologue about Trump
  • Midnight: Go to sleep and get rested for the next day of Trump-watching.  

This sounds like a joke, but, in fact, it’s reasonably accurate.  Talk about satiety.  I can’t think of any time in my lifetime that the media has devoted as much attention to a new president.  The connection between Trump and the media seems to be a symbiotic one.  Trump feeds off attention, and the contribution of media attention to his popularity doesn’t seem to depend on whether it’s positive or negative in content.  The media, at the same time, are thriving.  Despite  (or more likely because of)Trump’s constant attacks, CNN ratings are up about 40% from a year ago.  New York Times subscriptions have increased 1000% since Trump’s election.  The Times gripes about the media’s excessive attention to Trump, but they devote around 50% of their daily editorial space to heated criticisms of Trump and his administration.  

I’d like to think that my excessive media habits mean that I’m doing my duty as a citizen by keeping in touch with current events.   Maybe that’s about 5% of it.  A much bigger chunk is something like obsessively watching a horror story.  The administration’s actions have damaging consequences for major sectors of the American populace: women, immigrants and refugees, Muslim-Americans, gays and lesbians, the elderly, African-Americans, the poor, and, when it comes down to it, just about everyone else.  It’s like reading about serial killings or terrorist attacks.  It’s horrible, but it grabs your attention.  Then there is simultaneously a comedy side.  There is a weird cast of characters, and the administration is sufficiently chaotic that it’s a bit like watching the Keystone Kops.  The late-night talk show hosts can’t keep up with all the material.  However, humor can only go so far.  At its core, this is the opposite of funny stuff.    

So, going back to ennui, I’d say that my feelings of ennui are tied to my belief that  we, as a nation, are teetering toward calamity.  Following media accounts of Trump’s words and actions is sort of like breathing toxic air all day long.  It’s no wonder that people feel terrible.   Part of me says to simply tune it all out — turn off the TV, read the sports page instead of the editorials.  I doubt if I’ll do that though.  However, I’d like to be more aware of what I’m doing and why.  I feel like I’m falling prey to Trump’s antics and the media’s highlighting of them.  It’s time to try to get some detachment and perspective.  Just how to do that is another question. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wonders of Nature: The Amazing Hummingbird

Dear George,
Growing up in the country, we were in much more immediate touch with various flora and fauna than we’ve been during our adult urban lives.  The hummingbird was perhaps the most astonishing creature that lived on our property on the Menominee River.  My mother had a garden that ran along the west side of our front lawn, and we’d frequently watch the tiny, brilliantly colored hummingbirds hover over a flower, then dart in and extract its nectar.  Drawing from the sources listed at the end, here are some of the facts about hummingbirds that make them true wonders of nature.

  • Hummingbirds have lived on earth for about 42 million years.  They evolved simultaneously with nectar-bearing plants.  
  • Hummingbirds are native to the Americas: Central and South America, North America, and the Caribbean. There are 328 known species of hummingbirds.  Most live in tropical regions of Central and South America, while 17 are native to the U.S.  Only the ruby-throated hummingbird is found east of the Mississippi.   
  • Hummingbirds are among the world’s smallest birds.  The smallest known bird is the Bee Hummingbird, measuring less than 2 inches in length.   The Giant Hummingbird is nine inches long and weighs 0.8 ounces.  
  • Hummingbirds are named for the sound made by their tiny, beating wings.   A hummingbird’s wings beat up to 80 times per second.  Male hummingbirds’ wings give off a shrill whistle that can be detected by females over a hundred yards away. 
  • Hummingbirds hover in the air by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern.  They are the only vertebrates able to hover.  They are also the only birds that can fly right, left, up, down, backwards, and upside down.    
  • Hummingbirds can typically fly up to 35 miles per hour.  The green violet-ear hummingbird can fly 93 miles per hour.   
  • Except for certain insects, hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any bird or animal. Their heart rates can reach 1,260 beats per minute, and, even at rest, they breathe 250 times a minute.  During flight, a hummingbird’s oxygen consumption is ten times higher than that of human Olympic athletes. 
  • Hummingbirds use their feet only for perching and not for hopping or walking.   
  • Hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers, supplementing their need for nutrients by eating flying insects and spiders.  The average hummingbird eats half its weight in sugar every day.  If humans ate as much as hummingbirds, they would consume 155,000 calories a day.  
  • Hummingbirds’ tongues have tubes which help them to drink nectar.   They lick their food at a rate of up to 13 licks per second.  Hummingbirds have been observed visiting up to 20 flowers a minute.  
  • Thousands of plants in the Americas rely on hummingbirds for pollination.  
  • Hummingbirds spend 10-15% of their time feeding and 75-80% sitting and digesting their food intake.  
  • Hummingbirds are very territorial and have been observed chasing larger birds like hawks away from their territories. 
  • Most U.S. hummingbirds migrate south for the winter, traveling as much as 3,900 miles (over 78 million times the body length of a 3-inch hummingbird).  
  • To conserve energy, hummingbirds go into a state of torpor at night, their metabolic rate dropping to 1/15th of its normal rate.   Their body temperature drops from 105 degrees F. to 65 F.  
  • Like parrots, hummingbirds are able to acquire new songs through imitation. 
  • Hummingbirds take baths several times a day, splashing in shallow water.  
  • Hummingbirds use spider silk to bind their nests together.   
  • The Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, is often depicted as a hummingbird.  The Aztecs believed that fallen warriors return to earth as hummingbirds and butterflies.  
  • Many hummingbird species are listed as vulnerable or endangered due to habitat loss and/or climate change.  34 hummingbird species are threatened with extinction.   

SOURCES:, “Hummingbird”;, “Basic Facts About Hummingbirds”;, “The Hummingbird Society”;, “Hummingbirds”;