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Category Archives: RV living

MY HUSBAND’S LOVE OF WRITING, BIRDS AND SHARING HIS EXPERIENCES

My name is Arlyne Draper, and I was married to Robert L. Draper (Bob) for a month short of 52 years. I met Bob in Los Angeles, California. My ex-boyfriend worked with him at North American in Downey during the Apollo program and introduced me to him. It was meant to be, and we were married a short time after. Our marriage was unique. We enjoyed being together, doing things together and exploring nature, birdwatching, and travels with each other.

A native of Costa Rica, I came to Los Angeles to study. After graduation, I decided to stay and became a naturalized citizen. I love this country like my own. After I met Bob my life was complete. We were married on November 22, 1966 in my hometown of Puntarenas. At the time, Bob was working at Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach as a field engineer, and this became our home for almost two years. Our son David was born there. We were long- term car renters at Avis and they considered us “the longest car rental people they ever had.” After this assignment, there were many others in the U.S. and overseas through the years. We lived at the Rocket Motel in Alamogordo, NM and our daughter, Alexandra, was born in Las Vegas, NV. We moved around in California and settled in San Diego. Bob worked for Cubic Corp for 26 years and loved every minute of his career. He was able to travel to more than 26 countries, including Israel (I tagged along for some of his trips). The highlight of his travels was New Zealand. We were there for 1-1/2 years and this is where we became serious bird watchers. He retired in 2005, so bought a small RV and became full-timers in 2010 until he was taken from me by a sarcoma cancer October 11, 2018. Losing the love of my life and companion through 52 years left such a void and a terrible feeling of loneliness in my heart. Life is not the same without him.

I am not a writer, but Bob loved his blog and he was an excellent writer. He always said that engineers should be able to write to succeed and he did succeed during his career. He won proposals and awards, got some instruments patented, and earned the respect of those who worked with him and under him. I want to continue his blog and take pictures of birds. His twin brother Rich has offered to continue it with me. I hope you enjoy the future postings as Bob would love to have you read them.

Bob mowing the lawn at our first volunteer assignment at the Matagorda Nature Center in
Bay City, TX.
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Some Possibly Interesting Stories

I’ve noticed that I’ve never really had any comments on the Personal Stories section of this blog. Funny. Everybody has interesting stories about their lives. I used to love listening to my grandmother tell stories about growing up. She lived for a few years in a New Orleans orphanage, for example. She used to watch from her window as the lamplighter came down the street to light the street lamps. I’m not saying my stories are the equal of my grandmother’s but they may bring back your own memories and stories that your kids and friends would find fascinating.

So as Tom Lehrer, a famous singer/songwriter used to say “As we slide down the razor blade of life”…….here are a few more my personal stories.

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The Engineer Who Went to Yellowstone

It was the summer of 1966 and I was 25 years old. I was single and working at North American Aviation (NAA) as a rookie engineer. I worked with several other engineers on the Apollo space program. One of my favorite engineers was Steve Athan, one of two Greek guys who worked there. Steve was lively, laughed a lot and loved to help out younger engineers. His passion, however, was investments. He started an investment club at NAA and I contributed to it.

One day in the early summer of 1966, Steve announced that he, his wife and 3-year old daughter were going camping in Yellowstone National Park. Every week or so, he would come to work and announce, with much joy, that he had purchased an item of camping gear. First it was a camp stove, then it was a tent, then it was a small axe. He told us he had never gone camping in his life and was really looking forward to the trip. On a Friday in July, the big day finally arrived. He said goodbye to us and planned to leave for Yellowstone early the next morning. I remember telling him how much he was going to enjoy camping.

I came to work on Monday morning and was greeted with “Have you heard about Steve?” He had been killed by a falling tree while setting up his tent. I was stunned. He used to sit at a desk close to mime. We used to talk about strategies for stocks and bonds. He told me about warrants. He told me about cosmetic stocks. He told me about carefully selecting stocks to hold for the long-term. We used to talk about his wife and daughter. He was a wonderful friend.

Over the decades since, I still remembered Steve.   One day I was looking at books that my son’s wife had purchased. She is an on-line book seller. The book was “Death in Yellowstone.” The book details individual stories about how people have died in Yellowstone, sometimes through stupidity but often by bears, falling rocks, boiling pools and, lo and behold, falling trees. I never saw it coming. I turned the page and saw the Steve Athan story. The hair rose on my neck and I called everybody over. “I knew this guy”, I said. I always knew the basic story but found out about the aftermath. The Government was found in court to be the sole cause of the death of this visitor. His family was awarded about $43,000, which I suppose was a lot of money in those days. If you ever go camping in Yellowstone NP today, you will find that all the trees in nearly every campground in Yellowstone have been removed. This is the legacy of Steve Athan, a man I knew. If you were to look hard, you would find the Steve Athan story on the Web.

Why I boycott AAMCO, the transmission “specialists”.transmission

I was working in Los Angeles for North American Aviation. I was driving a 1960 Chevrolet that used to be the family car. The car was beginning to act up. The automatic transmission would change gears with a big “thump” that shook the car. I knew something was wrong but didn’t have any idea what it was. I took the car to AAMCO, near my apartment, and asked them to check it out. I waited for about half an hour. A couple of AAMCO techs came over and told me that the transmission was in really bad shape and I needed a new one. “How much will that be?” I asked. It’ll be $400, they said. Whoa, I thought. For a guy making $600 a month, that was a lot of money.

I went to Bank of America and inquired about a $400 loan but they turned me down. I argued with them, saying I was working full time right down the street at North American. Nothing doing.

A month or so later, I went back to Arizona to visit my brothers and my dad and told them about the problem. My dad and I drove down to his favorite mechanic and asked him to look at the car. The mechanic crawled under the car for a few minutes, slid back out and announced “It’s fixed.” He had noticed that a short vacuum hose attached to the transmission had come loose and he put it back into place. We asked how much he would charge us and he said a nickel but then decided it was free.   That’s why I’ve boycotted AAMCO for 50 years.

A Memorable Day at White Sands Missile RangeWhite Sands 4

While attending college at New Mexico State in Las Cruces, I worked part time at White Sands Missile Range. I was fortunate to work for Missile Flight Surveillance, where I worked with top-notch engineers and always had interesting work to do. One of my favorite stories has to do with the Corporal missile. This missile was already in U.S. Army inventory, based mostly in West Germany. Many times NATO troops would come to WSMR to practice live firing. The Corporal was supposed to be quite reliable but this wasn’t always the case. The Corporal was an advanced version of the German V2 rocket, used with devastating effect on Great Britain, including the civilian population of London.

One morning, we completed our installation of the detonator block and safety receiver on a Corporal and hunkered down in the back of a ¾ ton Army vehicle about 250 feet from the missile, to wait for the launch. We normally monitored the operation of the safety receiver from a sandbagged bunker but were in a truck this time. A wire is released after the missile lifts off and goes up a few inches. This arms the explosives.

Because this firing was done by a German NATO team, there was a slow-motion film camera set up to capture the event. The missile ignited, with a loud and continuous roar and lifted into the air. Desert sand and smoke flew out in all directions. We knew how the missile was supposed to behave and after some 10 – 20 seconds, we knew something was terribly wrong. As was sometimes the case, the high pressure air system that pushed liquid fuel into the ignition chamber didn’t build up sufficient pressure and the missile slowed down after it rose about 30 feet. Although still vertical, it started to slowly slide back down. The four of us in the truck knew what would happen next so we leaped out of the truck and ran like hell for the nearest sand dune. I never looked back but I heard the explosion and felt a barrage of heat from the fire when the missile settled back on the launcher and blew up. Another engineer was faster than me and had me by a few steps. He fell down in the sand, but got up when I was even with him and still beat me to the sand dune. We all made a great leap for the dune and fortunately weren’t hurt. This was all captured on NATO film. I sure remember that day.

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta IncidentOut_of_bounds balloon fiesta

It was 2005. We went to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta for the first time. What a fantastic sight for those of us who don’t ride in balloons. We were in our motorhome, parked near the launch site for all the hot air balloons. We arrived in the afternoon and parked, hooking up our motorhome to water and electricity. We were surrounded by other RVs.   We planned to go to the Dawn Patrol the next day to watch the balloons light up before sunrise and launch in the early morning sky.

It was about 8:00 pm. All of a sudden I heard a muffled explosion and our RV rocked to one side. At first I thought some big RV was maneuvering into a parking space and had hit my RV. I jumped outside and started to look around when I noticed a Toyota RV was on fire. It was about 80-100 feet from us. Three or four people were jumping out the door and I saw a fire in their kitchen area. I ran back to our motorhome to get my fire extinguisher which, by the way, was about the size of small flashlight or a medium sized bratwurst. As I ran toward the other RV, a lady stopped me and said “That fire extinguisher is too small to do any good.” By this time the whole roof of the Toyota RV was burning and the interior was mostly flames. So, I ran back to get my camera. I took a bunch of pictures as their RV burned down to the ground. The horn started to sound as the fire shorted out some wiring. The horn stopped and the headlights came on. By now the RV was only about 4 feet high. Then the tires blew out. It’s amazing how this nice little RV burned down until it was only 2 feet high. Eventually, the fire department arrived, much too late. Then the local TV news van arrived, again much too late. I thought about giving the TV crew my photos but decided against it. The occupants were unhurt except for the guy who was trying to light the oven. He was burned on his hands and face but was going to recover. Ahhh, the risks of the RV lifestyle.

How I Met Arlynebobnarlyne010

It was March 1966 and I was 24 years old. I was working as an engineer on the Apollo Space Program at North American Aviation in Los Angeles. Having just graduated from college, I was trying to learn the ropes from fellow engineers. I met a variety of interesting people, including, for example, George Shimada, who had been interned at the age of 14 in a camp for Japanese-American citizens. I loved to talk to him. Sitting at the desk next to mine, I met and befriended Larry Thomas, another engineer. He was an interesting guy as well. After a few months, he asked me come over to his apartment for dinner. He said he would invite his girlfriend over and she would cook dinner for us. That was OK with me.

I arrived at his apartment, where he introduced me to Arlyne. We all had a nice dinner and talked about all kinds of things, art, investments, Costa Rica. She seemed very nice and very cute. Arlyne lived in the same apartment complex but roomed with five other Latin girls, from Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Peru. Now that was interesting.

One Saturday, I drove over to Larry’s apartment unannounced just to see him. I knocked on his door and got no response, so I decided to walk over to Arlyne’s apartment. There I met some of the other girls but I was starting to focus on Arlyne. The next time I came over, it was to ask Arlyne to go to the movies and it was the start of our wonderful life for the last 48 years. We were married that year.

My First Airplane RideAT-6 Texan-2

It was in the late 1940’s and we lived in North Hollywood, CA. My twin brother Rich and I were young and didn’t really know that our dad had learned to fly before we were born. One fine day he took my brother and me to the Burbank airport for our first airplane ride. His best friend, Wash Wilson was going to be the pilot. We climbed on board an AT-6 Texan low wing military training plane. Wash flew from the back cockpit and dad had Rich and me on his lap in the front. Wash had been in the Army Air Force during WWII, assigned to fly gliders full of soldiers during D-Day. The gliders were towed by large aircraft and dropped off above French coastal areas to glide to safe landings behind German lines. Wash was so good at maneuvering these barely flightworthy gliders that he never deployed overseas but was assigned to train other pilots. We took off from the airport in the loudest, noisiest environment I had ever been in. The airplane made a huge racket. We couldn’t hear anything at all. We flew over parts of Los Angeles and then over the ocean. I think the Spruce Goose, the famous wooden plane designed and flown by Howard Hughes, was parked on the water under us. It was quite a thrill and Rich and I weren’t scared at all, just fascinated. I wish I could repeat that flight today. What was your first airplane ride like?

The Astronaut.buzz+aldrin

I was working at a small electronics company in Mountain View, California. A small team of us were working on a very compact data acquisition system that would fit inside the seat pack of an F-15 aircraft. It would monitor and record aircraft and flight parameters during a special mission where an F-15 would be air-launched from a B-52, light off a rocket booster and head vertically up to near space, higher than any air vehicle (with wings) had ever gone. We built only one system and I was briefly sent to Edwards Air Force Base to test it before installing it on the airplane. Edwards AFB is in the middle of the high desert with not much around. I was walking through the Headquarters building one morning when I looked in an office and saw one of the most famous people on earth……Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, right after Neil Armstrong. I took a few steps, stopped and wondered if I should go in to say hello. Finally, I decided to just step in briefly. After his Apollo adventures, Aldrin had been assigned as Commander of the Test Pilot School at Edwards. He looked up and I just said “Hello Mr. Aldrin, I just wanted to say hello. I’m working on the F-15 project.” He was, even then, a somewhat taciturn man and said a few words to me that I can’t actually recall, maybe just a nod since he was busy writing. I’m glad at least that I saw him.

My Grandfather the Stone Masonwalkers109

My mother’s father was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. He came from a line of architects and stone masons, which were nearly the same thing at that time. Aberdeen is famous for stone. The railroad station in Dunedin, a town in New Zealand that was founded by Scottish immigrants, is made entirely of stone brought over from Aberdeen. My grandfather, William G. Walker, was brought over to the U.S. when he was only a year old but he grew up and maintained the family tradition. He lived in Utah, Los Angeles and Mesa, Arizona and made his living crafting beautiful flagstone facades, patios and fireplaces for commercial buildings and private residences. He was a master craftsman in a day and age where talent like this was highly valued. When he moved close to us in Arizona, I got a chance to watch him in action. He had a flatbed truck and I went with him to Seligman in northern Arizona to pick up huge slabs of flagstone. He would inspect every piece carefully, looking for characteristics, color and other features I couldn’t fathom. A large crane was used to hoist the flagstone pieces onto the truck. My guess is that the larger pieces were at least 2000 pounds. Sometimes trucking companies would bring the stone to his house where he had a large backyard for working. I watched in amazement one day as he worked with a slab of flagstone that was 4 or 5 inches thick and about 12 feet across, laid on large sawhorses. He chose an angle and scored a shallow, straight line across the entire stone with a chisel tool and did this several times. When the line was still pretty shallow, he would take his chisel and tap along the line with his hammer a few times. Somehow, the stone knew what he was trying to do and as I watched, he put his chisel at a specific point on his scored line and tapped the chisel a little harder. Suddenly, with a tiny clicking sound, the huge slab broke right along his line, not a chip, not a flaw. He made a fireplace and a patio for the ranch house we grew up in. He was a master. We always thought he looked like Abraham Lincoln and he was a man of great stature to us. He volunteered throughout his life for Shriner’s Hospital and his wife Mae Robinson, my grandmother, worked during WWII in airplane factories as “Rosie the Riveter.”   Some of you may have to look up this term.

The Carbon Monoxide Incident.

We were living in Southern California, where it doesn’t really get cold that often. Our house at the time was an older one but as it turned out, that wasn’t the problem. We had recently purchased the house and wanting to get everything squared away, we hired a company out of the newspaper to inspect and clean all the ductwork in the house, just in case. It was summer at the time. Two young guys came out and did the job in a couple of hours. Our central furnace was inside a very small closet which didn’t have room for anything else so we didn’t look at it very often. As winter approached, we used the heater off and on when it got cold. Near the very end of the year, late December, it was very, very cold in our old house and we piled on blankets and turned on the furnace. Because of the low temperature, the furnace apparently ran nearly all night. We both worked and got up early. I put on my running shorts and went outside to jog. I ran a little bit, maybe a hundred feet, when I felt quite nauseous and decided it was too cold to run anyway. I went back in the house. I said hello to my dog and instead of coming over to me, he just laid there, not like himself. Arlyne got up and went into the kitchen and I took a shower. I felt very weak and almost couldn’t manage to shave. I thought “Is this what old age is like?” I felt I had aged 20 years. I got dressed and found that Arlyne had fainted in the kitchen and was sitting on the floor. We didn’t yet realize what had happened. Just when we needed our brains to work, they were degraded. We drove to work together and Arlyne dropped me off. She did say something about carbon monoxide. After an hour, she called me and said we were going to the emergency room. I agreed, especially after I had bounced off the wall while walking down the hallway. In the emergency room they listened to our suspicions, checked our insurance papers, had us lie down on gurneys and extracted some blood. While we were waiting for the results, the nurse gave me a pencil and paper and told me to draw a clock. It took me a minute but it was OK. Suddenly, two technicians came running over to us with oxygen bottles and masks. They put the masks on us and we breathed pure oxygen for several minutes. The carbon monoxide reading in our blood is supposed to be 0.5 and we were both at 20. That’s 40 times normal! They made arrangements for us both to be transported, in separate ambulances, to UCSD Hillcrest where there was a hyperbaric chamber. Immediately, we had plastic “diving helmets” put over our head so we could breathe pure oxygen and went into the chamber at 1.4 times normal atmospheric pressure. Carbon monoxide molecules attach to cells in your brain with adhesion that’s 200 times stronger than oxygen molecules. The chamber scrubs the carbon monoxide molecules. After an hour and a half in the chamber we walked out. As soon as we started walking, we felt fantastic! The chamber changed us dramatically. I got my 20 years back.

We had the gas and electric company go out to our house to see what had happened. They treated the house like a crime scene, running a probe into the house to check the atmosphere before they entered. My dog, thankfully, was OK. The problem went back to when we had the duct work checked. One of the workers, apparently a rookie, couldn’t figure out how to put the cover back on the furnace so he just taped it shut with masking tape. Over a period of a few months, the tape failed after going through many hot and cold cycles. The furnace door (the one that says “keep this door closed”) fell open and let combustion products fill the house. After an argument, the company that did the duct cleaning told me the “tech” that came to my house had been fired but wouldn’t give us our money back. Based on our story, at least 25 friends and family members bought carbon monoxide detectors at $40 each. We were lucky.

The Engineer and the Traffic Ticket

My daughter was in the hospital preparing to deliver her second child. I worked close by and went to see her a few times at lunch. After one of my visits I was driving back to work and came to a red light, intending to turn right. I looked around, decided it was safe and turned. Half a block later, a motorcycle cop flagged me down. He said the intersection where I had turned was a no-turn-on-red intersection. I was really surprised.   I told him I had lived here a long time and I never realized this. I took my ticket and went back to work but thought about it. My engineering background took over.

At lunch the next day I drove down to the intersection with my camera and took pictures of the two no-turn-on-red signs, one on the approach and one on the other side of the intersection. Neither sign was actually noticeable. The first one was too far from the intersection and around a curve. Not what you’re looking at when you’re driving a tight turn uphill. The second sign, across the street, was so high up on a pole that I was not able to see it through my windshield. I then parked in a nearby parking lot at the intersection and took notes. Every time a car came to a stop at a red light and had the opportunity to turn right on red, I made a notation. If the car illegally turned on red, I made another notation. At the end of an hour, I had counted some 60 or 70 drivers that had gone through the intersection and noted that 52% of the cars turned illegally on red. I came back the next day and watched again for an hour. This time, 48% of the cars made an illegal turn, including a bus and a taxi. That evening after work, I spent another hour there in the dark. This time I noted 53% of cars made illegal turns, including one driver who turned right in front of a police car. I had witnessed probably 90 to 100 violations in three days. Just to be complete, I came again a couple of days later when it was raining. I had similar findings.

I compiled my findings in a printed report, complete with color pictures, tables of data and an analysis. I then called the city traffic engineering department and told them about the intersection and asked how long it had been a no-turn-on-red. Only 3 months I was told. They also asked me to send them my report because often an intersection design is changed after it has some history. Now, of course, I knew why the policeman situated himself just down the block from that intersection.

My court date finally arrived. My fine, if convicted, or my bail if I didn’t show up, was $283. My case came up quickly and “my” police officer testified first. He stood up and drew a diagram indicating where we had been located and what he had observed. The judge then asked me if I had anything to say. “Yes I do, your honor”, I said. I explained that I had indeed turned illegally but that I had accumulated information about the intersection that showed over 50% of drivers did the same thing. I explained that the signage was poor and that because of the angle of the road and my height I was unable to see the 2nd sign. My analysis indicated that the intersection was a work in progress and was unfair in its current configuration. I basically paraphrased my report. The judge asked me to come forward so he could see my report. He looked it over, gave it back to me and said the following: “Nice work, Mr. Draper, but the city can’t wait until a traffic design is perfect. We have to use what we have until we are compelled to change it. The signage is not drastically different from anywhere else in the city and there are other intersections that have similar problems.” He made note of my “very interesting” report and said that I was guilty of the traffic violation but he reduced the fine from $283 to $80. He called the next case. I was pretty happy about the whole experience but the policeman gave me a really dirty look as he left. Hey, I thought the whole thing was a “win-win”.

Thanks for reading this stuff…….back to the birdies soon,

Bob and Arlyne

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Bird Lover, personal stories, RV living

 

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There’s a Lot Going on at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Border Patrol briefing. A representative from the Border Patrol (BP) talked to volunteers for an hour and a half last week. We all had questions of course and did get a few answers. This is what he told us. Border crossings are down in our area near the Refuge. The border fences are working to channel illegals into small areas where they can be more easily intercepted. Tethered balloons, previously used for weather forecasting, can be seen every several miles along the border. The BP uses vehicles, boats, horses, bicycles, helicopters, drones, tethered balloons and aircraft. The BP officer told us they are concentrating on criminals that transfer drugs and money across the border. Using intelligence, they try to identify and capture high level cartel members. Every illegal captured is questioned and fingerprinted. If the illegal is new to the system, he/she is given a court date. He says they understand that 98% don’t show up. If they don’t appear, a deportation order is created, in absentia. However, almost every illegal goes back to their home country for holidays, funerals, Holy Week, Christmas, to see their family, etc. If these people enter the U.S. again and are captured, they are now identified and sent right back to their home country (no more court dates). Mexican deportees are passed across the border into Mexico. OTMs (other than Mexican) are flown back to their home country, usually El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil and other South American countries. The U.S. pays for these flights. He says the U.S threatens to withhold the usual monetary assistance to countries if they don’t accept their own citizens back. This seems to work (if we really do this).

Three years ago, 254,000 illegals were detained in the Rio Grande Valley area. So far in 2015, about 50,000 have been caught. Estimates (guesses really) are that only about 50% of illegal border crossing attempts are detected and captured.storm damage-1-blog storm damage-2-blog

Power Outages and Storm Damage. We recently had a power outage for a few hours because a rotted power pole was being replaced next to the Visitor Center. It’s so humid here in the south Texas jungle and because it was our day off we sat in the VC for a couple of hours. The VC was being powered by a big portable generator. The Refuge tram had to be cancelled because the power company truck that was replacing the pole was blocking the tram access road. We also had a severe storm (lightning all over the valley) a few days ago that made national news. Many, many trees were blown over in 70 miles per hour winds, including a few within 25 feet from our motorhome. Another volunteer and I went out on the tram road and chain-sawed trees that had fallen across the road. We managed a couple of hours in the heat and probably only got half a mile into the refuge. The entire refuge had to be closed for two days.

crew putting up new poleGreat Birding at South Padre Island. We’ve had overcast, humid, rainy days here for the last several weeks. These conditions aren’t good for photography. The winds over South Padre Island (SPI) have almost continuously been blowing from south to north, helping the birds migrate over the gulf and encouraging them to fly over SPI and go hundreds of miles further north. We’ve persisted anyway and have had a couple of pretty good days.

New birds for us last week and this week: Northern waterthrush, Acadian flycatcher, Ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, lilac-crowned parrot and red-lored parrot. A large parrot community lives at a public park in Brownsville. The waterthrush was a bird we thought we already had on our list but didn’t. The northern waterthrush and the Louisiana waterthrush look very much alike. There are several website references that help us to distinguish the two birds apart and we had to use many of them. The Acadian flycatcher is a difficult identification as well but we both took lots of pictures and checked several references. We’re 98% sure of the ID. Three other birders helped us identify the Acadian and it was there for an hour, flying around.

Actually, we saw another new bird that we dithered about putting on our list.  A couple at the Convention Center told us they had seen a masked booby on the beach the previous day.  Yes, it’s a bird.  What do you know, the bird showed up at the pond by the South Padre Island convention center.  The problem was that the bird was a juvenile and appeared either terribly tired or perhaps dying.  We watched it make a tunnel in the reeds, probably to protect itself until it recovered.  We counted it for our lists but felt badly for the bird.  It looked very stressed.

very tired and stressed out masked booby

very tired and stressed out masked booby

All Creatures Great and Small. Every once in a while, we meet people at our Visitor Center who have interesting stories or are stories in themselves. An older man named Lee Johnson came in with his wife. He seemed like a knowledgeable birder and I chatted with him. It turns out he is way up on the list of people with huge bird lists within the ABA (American Birding Association) region. He has seen 780 birds in the limits of the U.S. and Canada. He’s been birding since the early 1940’s, has founded ornithology organizations and is a renowned bird-banding expert. He’s from Wisconsin. In the birding community, he’s famous. In response to an obvious question (what bird would you like to see now?) he said he wants to see the fieldfare, a European bird that is only accidental in North America. It is only seen rarely in North America. I heard about another man who has over 800 but that’s just rumor here. Seeing 780 birds in a lifetime of birding doesn’t sound like much but it really puts into perspective the achievement noted in the movie “The Big Year” when Sandy Komito saw 745 birds in just one year, a record that will probably never be broken.

Lee Johnson-master bird bander and near the top of North American birders

Lee Johnson-master bird bander and near the top of North American birders

Tony. Another man we met last week isn’t famous but should be. His name is Tony Villegas. He came to the Refuge with his daughter and sister-in-law. He’s 96 years old and full of energy. He was born next door in Pharr and still lives there. While the two women went for a short walk in the Refuge, Tony and I talked while I “took care of him.” He tried to join the Marines in the early 40’s but was too small. He accepted in the Army in mid-1941 and was in a training program when Pearl Harbor happened. He spent much of the war in North Africa and Italy, including Monte Casino, which had been bombed to pieces before he went there. He told me the story of one of his Army buddies who went to the Philippines, was captured and spent four years in a prison camp. He saw him after the war and didn’t recognize him. Tony has an incredible mind and a delightful personality. I told him he was a national treasure and thanked him for coming to see us.

I liked Tony’s little story about a chachalaca who was in a yard in back of his house. He and his neighbor sometimes fed them. A hawk flew down toward the chachalaca, intending to kill and eat it. The chachalaca zipped over the fence, ran between Tony’s legs and stayed there. He knew he had a friend.

Tony - a wonderful man to talk to.  96 years old

Tony – a wonderful man to talk to. 96 years old

Tony Villegas - WWII vet at our Visitor Center with his family

Tony Villegas – WWII vet at our Visitor Center with his family

Locally Famous Rio Grande Valley People. As we drive around the RGV, as we call it, we often have questions about what we see. We’ve decided, if we come back next year, we’ll start a project to research all the people for whom streets, highways, schools and even cities are named after. Early street name sightings include Cesar Chavez, who of course is famous as an advocate for farm worker’s rights. Raul Longoria is a street named after a local educator. As we passed by the little town of San Benito, I asked Arlyne who this saint was. She googled the history of San Benito, finding that this town was initially named after an early president of Mexico named Luis. Later they renamed it after a beloved local rancher named Benjamin. They agreed that he was virtually a saint, hence the name San Benito. That’s pretty cool. We’ve got dozens of names to go and even Google probably doesn’t have all the info. By the way, the local city of Weslaco, Texas is named after the W.E. Stewart Land Company. In 1919, four brothers purchased 320 acres from landowner W.E. Stewart to establish this new town.

The very small creature department. Arlyne and I have been overwhelmed by chiggers the last several days. These are nearly invisible little mites that drop onto your clothes and skin if you so much as brush against any vegetation here in Texas during the spring and summer. The bites don’t show up until the next day and it’s too late by then. The itching is, according to Google and me, is intense and unrelenting. We tried a few creams but I told the pharmacist in town that I wanted a medication so powerful it would give me a near-death experience. After a laugh, he recommended some creams that mostly work.   We bought all three. I had the worst condition, with upwards of 50 bites. I told Arlyne to take a Magic Marker and connect the dots all over me to see what kind of image would show up. Probably a huge chigger. The nearly continuous rains we’ve had brought out the chigger population. We’re now World Headquarters. I told the Refuge manager I won’t go out in the refuge anymore without a Hazmat suit.  Chiggers are smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

Butterflies. The weather has finally warmed up and the promised butterflies are showing up. We have learned to recognize a few. I put butterfly bait on some special little logs that are hung from trees around the visitor center. We may not always see these little creatures but the bait keeps them in the area. They’re way tougher to photograph than birds. Butterflies have the most beautiful names and we’ve seen a few of the prettiest.

bordered patch-1

black swallowtailBordered patch and black swallowtail

Visitors from an Infamous City. A man and wife arrived at the Refuge on a trip from England. I made small talk with them and asked where they were from in England. He said “We’re from Narborough, have you heard of Narborough?” I told him no, I hadn’t. He said “It’s quite famous as the town where DNA was first used to solve a crime. Have you heard of Colin Pitchfork?” I said; wait a minute, wasn’t that a case many years ago when two girls were killed? He said (sadly) that Narborough was the place and that he had been living there in the 80’s, at the time of the murders. Colin Pitchfork was finally convicted of the crimes. He had persuaded another man to supply DNA in his place when the police asked hundreds of men to donate DNA samples. The other man bragged about what he had done in (where else) a pub. In the annals of crime, yes, Narborough is infamous.

Bird Pictures.  Arlyne has turned out to be a very good bird photographer. She is adept at spotting birds and catching them in photos, many of them action shots. So I’m including photos from both of us.  She has posted many of her bird pictures on her Facebook.

worm-eating warbler in the grass-blogtri-colored heron-blog

Whoops……..not a bird but great timing to see this guy walking through the surf on South Padre Island.

coyote in the water-blogcoyote through pilings-blog

Nashville warbler-blog hooded warbler-blog  northern parula-blog

magnolia warbler-1-blog

Thanks for checking in with us,  Bob and Arlyne Draper

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Nature, RV living

 

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Something a Little Different

My blog usually centers on birds and our little adventures as Arlyne and I travel as volunteers to different Refuges and Parks. The blog will continue to do so, most of the time. We do, however, have some “down” time of course, which we use to do things we like, including cooking, baking, beading, local birdwatching, practicing my guitar, seeing local sights and coming up with stuff to write about. Sometimes I hit on something that makes my test subject (Arlyne) laugh. I like that.  Check out the next section.

New Prescription Drugs.  I was watching TV the other day when a commercial for a new prescription drug was droning on about the wonders of their product. The name of the drug was Farxiga (scientific name: dapagliflozin). This drug is used to treat diabetes. It got me thinking. Farxiga is pronounced “far-see-gah”. So I thought that maybe this drug could also treat nearsightedness. This inspired me, so over a couple of days, with help from my brother Rich (a wordsmith) and his wife Linda (a wordsmith with a science background), I came up with some new prescription drug names, what they would be used for and possibly some new syndromes or conditions. If drug companies can do this……..so can I.  Here they are.  What do you think?

Debilitol – counteracts the effects of too much testosterone

Packotrexate – relieves severe constipation

Benextium – feel better while waiting in long lines

Dechorocon – rids you of that embarrassing greenish skin condition

Codify –soothes the effects of too much mercury from eating fish

Fracticillin – loosens up stiff, achy joints

Equilibricillin – for ear-related dizziness

Amplify – assists with hard of hearing

Conundrium – a drug in search of a disease

Lovelostatin – slows down the progression of heart disease

Depropogate – helps with low sperm count

Embowellicillin – a powerful new laxative

Damitol – good for almost everything

Metroprolol – used by the sharpest traffic reporters

Dousematchifen – relieves inflammatory bowel disease

Calmpoopamine – de-irritates irritable bowels

Hope you find a favorite. This kind of mental exercise helps us to resist the effects of aging……..…doesn’t it?

Environmental Education. Arlyne and I helped put on an Environmental Education presentation about birds a little while ago at an elementary school. Today, we helped with another presentation about butterflies. Another couple did most of the hard work, with a PowerPoint show for 2nd grade and 5th grade kids but we enjoyed the experience. Today, the 5th grade class released a Viceroy butterfly that had just come out of its chrysalis in a container that the class had been watching for a few weeks. The little butterfly flew way up in the sky and appeared to be heading north, which is what it needs to do.

Odds and Ends. Our neighbor volunteers, Steve and Laura, buy green coffee beans from some fairly exotic locations, roast them in a little specialized roaster, grind the beans, use a French Press and usually drink some of the resultant coffee that same day. Steve just gave us some fresh ground coffee from Oaxaca (Mexico). We’ll try the coffee tomorrow morning.

Arlyne and I borrowed a Government van and went with another volunteer couple to Falcon Dam/Falcon Lake in Roma, about 80 miles east of Santa Ana. Ostensibly, we were checking on another volunteer couple to see if they needed anything. We did that and then went birding the rest of the day. The other couple saw a life bird (red-billed pigeon) and helped us spot other birds. We had a nice list for the day, including a few scissor-tailed flycatchers, which are just starting to arrive in Texas. The overcast days we’ve been experiencing for nearly a month are getting to be a bore. Photos just don’t jump out like they should.

Local Law Enforcement. I talked with a Texas State Trooper at the fee booth the other day. He told me he lived 500 miles to the north but had been assigned to the border. He had already been down here for three weeks, living in a hotel. He said they catch somebody with 200-400 pounds of illegal substances every single day. He looked tired and said he just wanted to go home and see his kids. He also said they needed 250 more guys along the border. People in the northern states (and probably California) really don’t hear about what’s going on down here. I really can’t go into any more detail about the stuff we hear about but I told the Fish and Game guys here that they live in a circus.

Beautiful Things.  I’ve included pictures here of beautiful things that we’ve seen over the last few years.

solitary-blog bambi pair DSC_0186-blog DSC_0057-blog DSC_0088-crop love the coast of the Pacific-blog

 

Wonder Wart Hog

Wonder War Hog – beautiful, isn’t he?

 

 

 

Historical Documents (see below). My brother, Rich, uncovered some marvelous old photos that I really like and maybe you will too. We were all young once. As I look at these photos, I find the strength to resist aging, because lately it seems I’ve been taking too much debilitol.

See you around, The Drapers, Bob and Arlyne

 

Three guys doing stuff together....

Three guys doing stuff together….Bob, David and Charlie the dog

A nice young couple

A nice young couple

Bob and Arlyne

Bob and Arlyne

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in futurism, Nature, RV living

 

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A Collection of News, Thoughts and Birds

A Collection of News, Thoughts and Birds

The Good News. We’re finally back at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas. Here in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, you don’t stop and smell the roses, you stop and smell the broccoli (and later the onions).

We won’t soon forget Bosque del Apache. It’s a beautiful, fascinating place. From late October to February, sandhill cranes, snow geese and other birds come to Bosque , many to spend the winter there. We took many of our favorite photos at Bosque and were lucky enough that the Refuge included three of our photos in their 2015 Habitat magazine that is given to visitors. How fun is that? Here are a few pics that we submitted that weren’t selected but are some of our favorites.

DSC_0055 American avocets in flight-blog avocet and reflection-2-blog Beautiful Great Blue Heron DSC_0066-blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

sandhill cranes

sandhill cranes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Ana.  If you remember, we spent part of last year as volunteers here at Santa Ana, having an exciting time. Some things have changed here and some things will never change. One change we’ve already noticed: There is a major increase in State Police and Highway Patrol in our area. The locals tell us that illegal immigration is down about 80% as a result. We see more Border Patrol too. We’ve heard that former Governor Perry negotiated a grant from the Government to pay for the extra people. Another change is at the Santa Ana Visitor Center. There are new displays, new procedures, new volunteers and new Fish and Wildlife personnel all over the place. We’ll be fine here.

The Bad News. What hasn’t changed is life (and death) below the border. The day after we arrived, I picked up a Spanish language newspaper with the headline: Van ya 30 muertos. In English: “Up to now 30 dead.” This all happened in the last few of days in the Matamoros area, just across the border from Brownsville. The article, translated for me by Arlyne, says (paraphrased): There has been an escalation in violence in Matamoros. The body count reflects only the bodies that are found because many are carried away by the gangs. Area roads and some universities were closed and the U.S. Consulate cancelled its activities because of grenades thrown into a (nearby) municipal building. The toll road between Reynosa and Matamoros was closed because the fee booth was riddled with bullets. The newspaper also said: The toll road is now a free road.

Arlyne and I are located about 45 miles east of Brownsville as the bullet flies, so I hope we’re safe for the time being.

Other News. In spite of these activities in Mexico, Santa Ana feels like a refuge for us too, getting us away from of the problems we experienced in California and later on our trip to Texas. The California problems were significant but nothing we couldn’t handle. It’s just money, I guess. We spent more than two months fixing up our former home (now rental property) in Escondido. New microwave, new hot water heater, new gas cooktop, electrical repairs, tile work, furnace repair, window repairs, hauling away junk left by the previous tenants, etc. We camped out in the empty house most of the time, sleeping on deflatable beds. Yes, we had our own version of deflategate when we woke up one morning on a nearly flat bed. It seems as if we had to fix or clean something every day. We’re fortunate we managed to find new tenants who signed a two-year lease. Not to mention that our motorhome was in the shop for nearly two months as well.

The Other Bad News. We were only 75 miles from our destination at Santa Ana, driving comfortably, when we heard a loud, sharp WHACK! We had a massive blowout on a rear motorhome tire. Scared the hell out of us. We were lucky that Good Sam roadside assistance called a local company that replaced the tire with our spare. The culprit tire actually blew up (shredded and violently came apart) and blew a softball-sized hole right under our shower. Talking to other volunteers, we’ve found that nearly everyone has had a similar experience.

The Good News. Whoa! It turns out there is a recall on our Michelin tires and we’re going to get six new tires at no cost. The recall notice states that the tires in question could lead to a “loss of tread, and in some cases rapid air loss, risking a loss of vehicle control.” (I love the attorney-drafted phrase “rapid air loss.”) Well, we’re now poster-kids for this recall. Six new tires would normally cost $2500.

Now that's a blowout!

Now that’s a blowout!

Rescued in Texas

Rescued in Texas

Draper On Aging. I promised a few people that I would write some words about aging, which Arlyne and I are doing every day. This is only for entertainment value, I suppose. Two things to start with: First, I find that as we age, everything dries up except watery eyes and drooling and, if you’re lucky, post-nasal drip (which is good because if you’re sick, you’re not dead). Second, we have to resist signs of aging whenever we can. When I took a short SouthWest flight to visit my brother Rich, I was putting my carry-on in the overhead compartment and a middle-aged passenger standing next to me said “Let me help you with that.” I almost said “get the hell away from me” but then just said “Thanks, I got it.”

As I get older, I sometimes have what I call “extreme short-term” memory loss. I put some water in a cup, for example, reach over to turn the faucet off, move my hand back and knock over the cup. Is it possible to forget something I did just 2 seconds before? Yes. Arlyne and I are systematically developing strategies for remembering where we parked the car, where we put our phones, her purse, my glasses, all our battery chargers……well you get the idea. We’re not immune.

As we get older, it seems we’ve lived long enough to see a number of U.S. presidents rehabilitated (or nearly so), having been very unpopular during their term of office. Harry Truman is one of them. He was not glamorous but he’s considered a great president now. LBJ is one of them. He is beginning to be rehabilitated. He faked a war record by taking a flight in a military aircraft early in his career. Of the dozens of Great Society programs he instituted, the only one still around is Head Start. All the others have long since been abandoned as useless and wasteful. He did sign important civil rights legislation, but remember, he just signed the legislation, he didn’t work hard to craft it, negotiate with Congress and the Senate, fight over amendments, etc. He simply held the pen and signed it. That’s good but not great.

We older people really do have a great advantage in remembering bits and pieces of history, good and bad. Most of us have talked to people who witnessed history that occurred even before we were born. My father, for example, was already an adult in 1929 Los Angeles when Wyatt Earp died (in Los Angeles). I talked to him about that. I remember listening to the radio when it was announced that the Korean Police Action (war) started. I remember hearing (on the radio again) that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first humans to reach the top of Mt. Everest. An interesting sidebar to this: when Arlyne and I were working in New Zealand in 2003, Sir Hillary was still living there and still in the phone book. (2nd Sidebar: Hillary Clinton says she was named after Edmund Hillary. Well, she was born and presumably named in 1947, six years before Edmund Hillary climbed Mt. Everest in 1953. What do you know about that?)

Things I’ve seen…….a real life lion tamer (with bandages), a complete live radio show on stage (Buster Brown), the WWII Lockheed flying wing (flying), the Howard Hughes Spruce Goose, a field of dozens of surplus B-24 rear gun blisters, John Wayne movies before he was a cowboy, Elizabeth Taylor movies before she was a teenager, a WWI (yes, one) veteran who had been hit with mustard gas and an Army scout that guided General Crook and met with Geronimo before the legend was finally captured.

Things Arlyne has seen…….an active German submarine that was sunk off Puntarenas, Costa Rica when she was living there, her dad and his friends gathered around the radio listening to a Joe Louis boxing match, memories of enjoying working ox cart rides with her brothers and sisters at her grandfather’s remote Costa Rica farm.

Also, after 48 years of marriage, I find I have X-ray eyes. I look at Arlyne and I see the young woman inside, still there, still beautiful. Only I can see this. It’s Valentine’s Day every day. I’m living the dream. Getting older isn’t all bad.

“My” Thoughts onThe Future. Now here’s a different subject in my blog. Do you remember “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells? It was published in 1895 and there have been two movies based on the book. Perhaps we should all read it again because Mr. Wells actually made some profound predictions. I’m struck by similarities between what Wells wrote and today’s world. I will use some of his nomenclature. Again, this is for entertainment value, I suppose.

When Well’s main character visited the distant future, he found that the world had two kinds of people: the eloi and the morlocks. The eloi lived above ground, didn’t work, had fun and danced all day. They had no responsibilities and were generally small and weak. The morlocks were strong and misshapen, lived underground, did all the work and operated the machines that allowed the eloi to live in comfort and pleasure. Once in a while, the morlocks would come to the surface and “take” some of the eloi, in effect a barter system.

I already see our world beginning to separate into these two categories. By virtue of normal human nature, assisted and encouraged by the direction and intervention of governments, it seems many people are evolving into an eloi class. Using the labor of the morlock class to supply their needs, eloi are provided for in increasing ways, easing their way through life. I understand that it’s very early in this process, but there are many people worldwide today who don’t want to work, are unable to work, can’t find any work, don’t have to work (perhaps rich) or aren’t necessary anymore due to technological and societal changes. In the moderately distant future, these people will increasingly be supported by benevolent governments or find increasingly simple employment with governments themselves. The very rich (this is the future remember) will fade away because their assets will increasingly be taken by desperate governments, until governments themselves (and elections and politicians) are no longer needed.

Another segment of society, the morlocks, will develop to operate machines, grow food, generate and distribute energy and control transportation and other “industries”. There will be fewer morlocks than eloi because of highly advanced technology that will allow morlocks to provide for both themselves and eloi. Perhaps there will be a very small intellectual class but I will lump them in with the eloi. There will be no middle class at all, as there will be no purpose. I think, initially, the eloi class will consist not only of the very (idle) rich and those who are supported entirely by governments, but athletes, entertainers, artists and others who produce no food, materials or goods. I’m not saying artists and entertainers are not valuable today. But, they will increasingly become part of the eloi class and be supported entirely by others.

I’m not saying I know more than anybody else but you may ask “What about doctors and nurses, for example?” Where do they belong? Because of advances in technology, robotics, artificial intelligence and a vastly increased understanding of the human body, this segment of the population will most likely fade away. What about criminals? I think this segment will also fade away, since all their needs will be taken care of or eventually they may gravitate to the morlock side and be subsumed.

I’m trying to be realistic, not pessimistic. H.G. Wells was way ahead of us and my thinking of course relies on his ideas. His vision included society (and the earth) deteriorating until both were gone. It is very scary and may not happen, of course. He saw this as millions of years in the future. Clearly we’ll never see it, but perhaps we are witnessing very, very early movement. I hope humans eventually escape from earth and try to improve the future of humanity. What do you think about this idea of the future?

“Our Birdies”. I can’t post a blog without a few wildlife pictures. As we left our assignment at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico, we submitted several photographs to the Refuge, for possible inclusion in the 2015 issue of Habitat, the brochure given to all visitors. Three of our photos were included in the brochure……very exciting for us! A deer, a hiker and Arlyne’s sora (a small water bird). Here are a few more of the photos we took in our last few weeks at Bosque.  Next blog I’ll include the Habitat photos.

munching leaves

munching leaves

killdeer gymnastics-blog

Northern harrier on the hunt

Northern harrier on the hunt

here we come-blogHope you enjoy this issue.  A few new wrinkles……

Bob and Arlyne Draper

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Bird Lover, futurism, Nature, RV living

 

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