Today’s Birthday: Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall was born on April 3, 1934 in Hamstead, London, England. She is a anthropologist and primatologist, acknowledged as the world’s expert on chimpanzees. In 1960 she went to the Gombe Stream National Park of Tanzania to study the Kasakela chimpanzee community. That study is still going, making it the the longest continuous study of animals in their natural habitat [1]. In her honor I give you the post I wrote after we visited the orangutan rehabilitation center on Borneo. – Jadi

In 2019 we saw our first free roaming orangutan.

We were at Semenggoh Nature Reserve, just south of Kuching in the Sarawak state on Borneo. Semenggoh is also a Wildlife Centre, established in 1975 as a rehabilitation sanctuary. They take in injured, orphaned, or rescued orangutans. The sole goal of the centre is the rehabilitation and gradual return of animals to fend for themselves in the wild.

Orangutans are endangered, rare, marvelous. They’re native to only two places on the entire planet: Borneo or Sumatra. Our chances of running across them in the wild were pretty much zero, but at Semenggoh maybe we could watch them feeding.

Our individually booked, guided visit conjoined with the larger international tourist groups. The centre gives educational lectures. We learned the rarity and habits of these giant primates. Orangutans spend at least 60% of their waking time looking for food. “Their diet consists of 300 different kinds of fruit such as barks, honey, young shoots, insects and occasional bird egg and small vertebrae. Fruits make up 60% of the orangutan’s diet.” Also (this fact surprised me), “a 1-mile square radius of rainforest can only support a low population density of about 2.5 orangutans.”  [2]

The centre maintains a feeding platform. Orangutans are called back for lunch if they want it. But the jungle vegetation fruited a second time last winter, and we were informed that if the orangutans didn’t show, this was a sign that they were fending successfully for themselves in the thick woods. And indeed, none of the creatures responded to the rangers’ calls. [3]

We waited patiently for the tardy luncheon guests. Then suddenly walkie talkies crackled. The seemingly relaxed park guides sprang into action, urging everyone back towards the entrance. A ranger had spotted an orangutan!

Seduku

The matriarch was in a tree near the parking lot and ironically closer and easier to observe than if she’d come to the feeding platform. It was Seduku. She’s nicknamed the ‘Grand Old Lady’, born in 1971.

The Grand Old Lady

Seduku could be aggressive towards tourists, our guide said. But the morning we ‘met’ her she was mellow (and almost seemed to be showing off). All I can say is that she had a conscious dignity. Kudos to the great work being done on behalf of orangutans at the Semenggoh Rehab Centre!

NOTES: [1] Kasakela chimpanzee community [2] Semenggoh Wildlife Centre [3] Not getting to see the endangered animals at a feeding station means that they’ve rehabilitated into their natural habitat. Not seeing them is a good thing. This is an ironic moment for any tourist. To learn more about the rehab center, go to their website at https://semenggoh.my/ ©2024 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as Borneo’s Wild Orangutans. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories). The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Southern African Birds with their Friends and Foes

“A heart without dreams is like a bird without feathers.” — Suzy Kassem

The bird life in Botswana and Namibia is fantastically entertaining. One of my favorite birding activities was watching them interact with other animals.

In Chobe, Botswana we spent breathless minutes watching a male African fish eagle try – and fail – to fly away with the huge fish he’d killed. A trio of monitor lizards kept on coming, and the eagle finally dragged his catch across the grasses. In the end, the lizard won.

that’s a monitor lizard in the lower right hand corner, determined to steal the fish

On our last night in Botswana, at dusk (alas, too dark for photos) we watched a pair of Verreaux’s giant eagle owls hunting until it became too dark to see them. They were hands-down the largest owls we’d ever seen and absolutely magnificent.

A Verreaux's Eagle-Owl at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.
Eagle owl photo courtesy of Animalia. We saw a pair in Ghanzi, Botswana

We loved watching the giraffes with birds. They eat the insects that plague the giraffe, and pluck hairs from the mane for their nests. We spotted this group in Moremi Game Reserve.

5 red billed ox birds. Their giraffe host looked so serene

Even more daring are the red billed ox birds who catch the flies and bugs that land on a water buffalo’s nose and eyes.

bird and buffalo in Chobe National Park

As I said in my first post on them, This Life is for the Birds!

NOTES: For more on Verreaux’s  eagle-owl go to  https://animalia.bio ©2024 Jadi Campbell. Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

The Vernal Equinox + The Northern Lights + Lappland

The spring equinox arrives tomorrow. In honor of the turning of the seasons I give you the post I wrote after visiting the Arctic Circle. – Jadi

For 14 years my husband spent half of every winter up in northern Sweden, working on a frozen lake. The engineers flew up for 2-week stints, leaving home on Mondays and returning two weeks later on a Friday evening charter flight.

The very last year that Uwe did this stint, his company began to allow family members to take advantage of the flights. At the end of March 2001, on the vernal equinox, I flew up to meet Uwe in the region broadly known as Lappland.

Limited access roads

My flight was delayed while President Putin flew through European airspace back to Russia. By the time I arrived it was close to midnight, and we had to drive an hour further north to reach Arjeplog. It was a bitterly cold -22° and on either side of the deserted road the snow piles loomed. But we kept stopping the car to get out – the Northern Lights were dancing in the heavens! So far north, surrounded by nothing but woods and the glittering of stars, the aurora borealis played across the horizen.

I heard a weird background swishing noise underneath the sound of my heart beat. I was listening to the borealis. As I stood on the frigid road my optic nerves took pictures of the Northern Lights. It was so quiet that the part of my brain which processes sound picked up signals leaking out from the images. Early explorers in the Arctic Circle reported this experience. (They discovered when they put their hands over their eyes, the sounds went away.)

The Lights are caused by disturbance in the magnetic field of the earth’s poles. Energy generated by solar winds is hurled from the sun at incredibly high speeds. The solar winds get stopped when they hit the magnetic field. Electrons and atoms from the windstorms collide, and that creates the lights.

In some parts of Sweden and Norway, people earlier described the aurora borealis as the reflection of Silleblixt, millions of herring swimming in the sea. The Eskimos have a legend about the Northern Lights. They think the aurora borealis lights up the trail of the afterlife. This is a dangerous, narrow path that souls must take when they leave dead bodies and head to heaven.

Some cultures mention the lights as dancers in the heavens. Scotsmen call the Northern Lights ‘Merry Dancers’. In the Middle Ages, if people saw the Northern Lights and they contained red, it meant a war was starting somewhere in the world. The red color was death and the blood being spilled in battles. I just saw different shades of white lights and no other colors in the spectrum. And I definitely thought they were alive, like dancers.

The next day we drove north and officially crossed into the Arctic Circle. The trees ended altogether and the landscape beyond this point was a dome of snow meeting an azure sky.

It had warmed up to -6° and the day was clear and beautiful

The Swedes refer to this time of year as winter-spring, the 5thand most beautiful season of all. I made a snow angel

A snow angel for the Arctic Circle

and spotted a rare Arctic white ptarmigan. We drove past spots on the deserted roads where black garbage bags hung dark against the snow. These are a signal for drivers that a herd of reindeer is grazing somewhere nearby.

That weekend is the only time I have seen the Northern Lights. They have danced in my memories ever since.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2024. Previously published as It Was a Bitterly Cold – 22°. To see Uwe’s photos from our trips go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories). The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

The Daily Briefing

My sisters were adamant. They know that when I’m traveling I prefer to go off-line. I don’t write emails, I don’t turn on the television set in hotel rooms, and I only respond to messages if they can’t wait.

Uwe sent occasional photos via What’s App to a small group of our friends, but I told my sisters I wanted to remain off-radar.

They insisted. If Uwe and I wanted to drive by ourselves around Namibia and Botswana, they wanted to know where we were staying and where we’d head next. “You can always reach me by cell phone,” I told them. But they wished to follow our trip on the map, and visualize where we were at any given time.

The request actually made a lot of sense to me the more I thought about it. The longer the trip lasted (we were gone for 5 weeks) the smarter it seemed. Uwe and I had talked excitedly about the trip as we planned it, but no one had a comprehensive list of lodge addresses and phone numbers where we could be reached if anyone needed to get in touch with us.

If for some weird reason we disappeared totally, nobody other than a travel agent knew where to find us….

Each evening I’d send a quick message to let Pam and Barb know we’d arrived safe and sound at our destination. Or, in the morning before driving off, I’d text them the name of the next national park and lodge we’d be heading to.

It turned into a rather glorious game. “Hey! Where’s our zebra of the day?” they’d text.

one of Uwe’s great photographs

I did my best to oblige. Uwe’s by far the superior photographer but I snapped shots of the animals crossing the roads and included a daily photo in my daily briefing.

Ghanzi, Botswana horses
cattle everywhere
another roadside attraction: Botswana elephants

I tried to give them an idea of what I was seeing each day. I took photos of the metal artwork, the room we stayed in, the sunset view at dinner.

 

 

 

Maybe once a week we chatted in a three-way phone call. Barb was in Oaxaca, Pam was in Hong Kong, I was in Africa. My sister listened to me crow about our adventures. They told me in no uncertain terms to get medical attention the morning I reported that an insect I could only identify as a black Botswana battery-acid blister beetle had released noxious fluids on my neck. [1]

I journal diligently on trips to record as accurately as possible what we are seeing in each new place, but there was something rapturous about making quick emotional reports. My two sisters were the friends to receive a running commentary of first impressions.

Only Barb and Pam heard from me about the trip as it was happening. There’s no one I’d rather have had as virtual companions. xoxoxoxoxo

I want to end with a postscript that it’s a good idea before heading out on a big adventure to leave the particulars with someone you trust. Sisters, you are now forever on the need-to-know basis!

NOTES: [1] Go to my posts about the black Botswana battery-acid blister beetle for that story. ©2024 Jadi Campbell. Some photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. For more of Uwe’s photos from our trips and his photography, go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was long listed for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

 

A Boogie with George and the Boys

George Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool, England. The “quiet Beatle” helped bring Indian music to the West with his interest in the sitar and conversion to Hinduism. He hosted one of the very first benefit shows, 1971’s The Concert for Bangladesh. The guest line up included Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Ringo Star, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Ali Akbar Khan, and the members of Badfinger. In Harrison’s honor I give you reprinting the post I wrote after seeing the Bootleg Beatles. – Jadi

One year when Uwe and I took a vacation in Asia, I jumped at the chance to fly early and visit my sister Pam and my nephew Nikolai in Hong Kong. They lived in the city for a few years, and Pam had made a game out of finding as many cultural events as possible.

We attended a Japanese hip hop performance, fascinated to see how a form that began with black America was interpreted into Japanese. We got tickets for electrifying (and surprisingly political) Chinese modern dance. Not everything we saw was good; we had to suffer through an hour of really bad flamenco. We fled as soon as politely possible.

And Pam got us tickets for the Bootleg Beatles.

Asians retain a fierce love of the Beatles to this day, and the Bootleg Beatles aren’t your average cover band. The Bootlegs are the Beatles’ first and oldest tribute band. They have been playing for over 36 years! “George”, “Ringo”, “John” and “Paul” sing and play, complete with costume changes to track the evolution of the group. An eight-piece orchestra backs them up. They. Are. Terrific.

The Lyric Theatre of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts is a classic amphitheater space. Our seats must have been the last three sold: Pam, Nikolai and I sat high, high up in the last row.

Once they started playing, it was clear why the concert was completely sold-out. It was like the Bootlegs were channeling the original band. My sister and I got up and danced.

But a strange thing happened: during the entire concert, we were the only people dancing. The amphitheater was filled to capacity with more than a thousand Hong Kong residents and visitors – and everyone was far too well-behaved to get on their feet.

We were surprised that no one else danced. Had we missed something? Was there some kind of Asian protocol about performances? We looked at one another, at Nikolai (sitting between us with his face covered, totally absorbed in listening to the band and not about to join us) and the proper people sitting all around. Like I say: we had seats in the final row up in nose-bleed territory. The only thing behind us was a cement wall. Who would it disturb if we danced?

So we did. From Please Please Me to Back in the USSR to All You Need is Love, we rocked out. Pam and I had a ball. There is something about giving yourself over to the ecstasy and joy of great music. These are the tunes of our childhoods and teenage years.

We grew up with the Beatles. The night in 1964 the band played on The Ed Sullivan Show, Mom came and got us out of bed. “Come see the Beatles!” she urged. I was a little kid at the time. I remember dashing to the black and white television set in excitement… only to watch bewildered as four men in black sang. Where were the insects? (Our dad Bobbo was an entomologist, so my confusion was genuine.)  Later the band and their music became – and remain – an integral part of the weave of my life.

These are just the albums I have in CD form. The others are records and downloads…

So. Fast-forward almost 50 years to an amphitheater in Hong Kong, and you’ll understand why we simply had to get up and boogie.

Before the first break, “George” said how nice it was everyone had come out for the show. He added, “Especially you at the back. We’re really glad you’re here. You’re great!”

“Hey!” I exclaimed. “Do you think he means us?” At the end of the show, “George” and the boys thanked the audience for coming, with “A special thank you to the two girls in the top row. You made the show.”

Some events remain live. In a parallel universe and all my dreams, I’m still dancing.

Love Me Do!

In memory of George Harrison, 25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001

NOTES: The Bootleg Beatles; Story and Photo ©2024/2017 Jadi Campbell. Previously published as A Boogie with the Bootlegs. To see Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories). The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

 

ZZZZZZZEBRAS!

I’m in LOVE with zebras.

It was love at first sight. When Uwe and I were in southern Africa I sent my sisters ‘Zebra of the Day’ snapshots.

We saw hundreds of them in herds, and  by the time our trip was over we’d spotted thousands.

We saw zebras in national parks in Namibia and Botswana. I was in ecstasy every day we were forced to stop to let them cross the roads.

We spotted them in the Okavango Delta from above in a helicopter.

Bathroom breaks were a gas station if we passed one. Most of the time it was just pulling over to the side of a remote road…. I took a memorable pee not 5 meters away from 60 zebras. They watched warily from behind the brush, but didn’t move away. I could hear them whickering to one another about me.

Funnily enough, (cue eerie music here), last autumn I’d decided that my next book is going to feature zebras. It’s still in the planning and thinking-about stages so I won’t say anymore than that. But to start the creative process I bought a zebra magnet at the British Library in London. I’m looking at it as I write this post: it’s attached to a stereo speaker.

I have a key chain I bought at a gas station in Namibia from the artist who was going from car to car. He carves them from soapstone and I kept turning him down until I saw the one that featured 3 zebras.

Botswana basket to the far right is Ribs of the Zebra pattern

I also brought home a basket with the traditional ribs of the zebra pattern in Maun, Botswana. *

Zebras are sociable, and intelligent, and cannot be tamed. Each zebra’s stripes are as distinctly unique as finger prints.

ZZZZZZZEBRAS!!! I shouted with glee each time we saw one.

NOTES: * In a future post I have more to say about the fine art of basket weaving in southern Africa! ©2024 Jadi Campbell. Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

Wild Birds of Africa

“Tame birds sing of freedom. Wild birds fly.” — John Lennon

When you think of watching wild life in Africa, everyone talks about the Big Five. And yes, we spotted elephants, water buffalo, lions, and giraffes, everything except the leopard (which for all kinds of funny reasons makes me really happy. It means we have to go back!)

The birds in southern Africa are amazing too. We saw an array of bird life so varied and exotic that halfway through our trip we bought a book on Birds of Southern Africa. It would have been too annoying to get home again and have no way of identifying them without having to spend days on the Internet trying to find them.

African hoopoe, Etosha National Park, Namibia

At our last lodge in Namibia, Uwe and I both spent hours sitting on the little balcony to our room. We were watching the weaver birds making new nests and feeding their broods only a few meters away from where we sat.

Along the Caprivi Strip hundreds of bee eaters live on the river banks.

Southern carmine bee eaters in the Caprivi Strip

The bee eaters colonies will wash away when the rains come and the Kavango River rises.

In Chobe National Park in Botswana, we saw herons, eagles, storks, and shore birds beyond counting. We did an early morning boat cruise and literally had the river delta and the rich wildlife to ourselves.

purple heron
African jacana (aka ‘Jesus birds’). They use their long toes to cross via plants and lily pads on the Chobe River
African skimmer. Lower bill is longer and used to skim the river for fish
African openbill stork, Chobe

We saw marabou storks who happily scavenge carcasses.

We smelled the dead buffalo before we spotted it. Then, like a comedy routine, the  stork’s head popped up from where he was feeding on the other side of the water buffalo carcass.

African darter

More birds to follow. In my next post I’ll give you Uwe’s photographs of birds interacting with other animals.

NOTES: ©2024 Jadi Campbell. Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

one last Southern carmine bee eater

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

The Song of Hippos

We spent a week in November traveling across the Caprivi Strip in northern Namibia. It’s this funny skinny strip of land with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the south, Zimbabwe to the east, and a landscape that shifts from the Namib Desert to the Okavango Delta.

the local residents

It’s one of the greatest places I’ve ever visited.

Where we sat and ate our meals

Our lodging consisted of tents on the Kavango River. These were larger and more comfortable than you’d think.  The lodges are off the grid, with electricity powered by solar energy collectors. The first tent had a fan and the second one didn’t. The tents always included mosquito netting over the beds.

The river bank was a few meters away, and I gazed across it to Bwatbwata National Park.

By far the best pieces of scenery were the hippos that live in exactly this stretch of the river.

That’s Bwabwata National Park on the other bank

I was astonished to learn this fact: Hippos can’t swim. Apparently they can hold their breaths under water for up to five minutes. Mostly they stand around in groups called pods or bloats (really!) almost completely submerged. They socialize in water up to their eyes and ears to keep cooled off until it’s time to go up on land and find something to eat.

Hippos talk simultaneously both above and below the water. I found them to be surprisingly chatty. When hippos communicate with honks, the sounds really carries.* They also talk with grunts and bellows and wheezes.

Each night I fell asleep to the voices of hippos snuffling in what sounded like quiet contentment. I slept more deeply there than anywhere else on our trip.

NOTES: * A hippo’s honk can be heard a mile away. Science Direct: Amphibious communication. The San Diego Zoo has a great article on hippopotomuses: https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/hippo ©2023 Jadi Campbell. Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photography and his photos of our trips can be viewed at viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

 

A tin toy helicopter

Photographers dream of getting an opportunity to take pictures of animals from above. In Botswana you can book a helicopter in Maun to spot herds moving across the Okavango Delta. Uwe repeatedly mentioned how “we” could have the chance to see the delta from the air, and finally I agreed.

When I imagined this ride I thought of a normal helicopter, constructed of reassuringly thick and reinforced metal alloy. One with three seats in the front, three in the back. I pictured myself ensconced in a middle seat safely far from a sliding door that was propped open for the photographers. We’d be up in the skies for 45 minutes that would zip by.

But, no, the flight was in a helicopter less than half the size I’d expected. When I saw the little tin toy we were going to ride in, my stomach began to flip. Our tiny death trap had no middle seat — and no doors.

Thorvald, the pilot from Iceland. He moved to Botswana so he could fly tourists around in a little tin rotocraft

Okay, so it wasn’t tin.

But it sure felt like it. We were high in the sky, riding in a fragile toy helicopter. A miniature toy constructed out of some kind of light metal that would crush with the slightest wind. A toy without any doors or even a safety bar, for f***’s sake. The only thing between me and a sure death was the seat belt. And my husband had decided to go for it and booked an hour-long flight instead of the 45 minutes I thought “we’d” decided on.

“What do you hope for from your flight?” they asked.

I pointed at Uwe. “He wants to take pictures, and I just want to not faint or throw up.”

My husband was in the back seat in that version of Heaven photographers go to in these situations. I sat in front next to Thorvald with both hands firmly gripping the seat under me. Breathe! I reminded myself, followed very quickly by, Screw that. Just don’t pass out. Thorvald kept circling and banking so Uwe could get the best shots. Each time he banked, my stomach circled right along with the itty bitty ‘copter.

A lone fisherman. His boat was dangerously close to a pod of hippos

I looked down and figured, If this thing falls out of the sky, we’re toast. I might as well enjoy the last hour of my allotted time on Earth – especially if it’s not taking place on the ground. I made myself unclamp my fingers from the seat, and even leaned towards the (nonexistent) door.

The vistas took my breath away. Tracks in the delta as far as the eye could see, made and followed by migrating herds.

Verdant areas where the showers of the last two days had filled pools.

African buffalo, zebras and elephants roamed across the land.

Pods of hippos seen from above looked like floating lily pads.

When I was looking through Uwe’s photographs for this post, for the first time I saw this pic of two men carrying attachable doors across the runway. So there ARE doors if you insist on having them.

I don’t know if I would have insisted if I’d known that ahead of time. As it was, once Thorvald brought us without a bump back onto the earth, I looked at him and said, “Let’s go up again!”

NOTES: ©2023 Jadi Campbell. All photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. For more of Uwe’s photos from our trips and his photography, go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

The Black Botswana Battery-Acid Blister Beetle, Part Two

The following week we join an all-day game drive which involves getting up at 5:00 a.m. and sitting in the back of a safari jeep for two hours in order to reach Moremi Game Reserve. This game reserve is where we see the pack of wild dogs I wrote about.

The jeep holds nine people. We’re in fantastic luck, because two German couples have brought a personal guide. He’s from Namibia but comes often to Botswana. Uwe and I tag along for free on a personally guided tour as he identifies animal tracks and vegetation and gives fascinating and detailed talks on every single animal we spot. (A pair of sleeping lionesses, African buffalo, zebras, impalas, fish eagles, elephants, wildebeests, springboks, and much, much more.) He has phenomenal knowledge about everything – politics, history, the land, the region, the flora and fauna.

More wild elephants live in the Okavango Delta than anywhere else in the world
We’ve tentatively identified this bird as a Wahlberg’s eagle
Pavians. I hate wild monkeys
Springboks
When we left the Moremi Game Reserve 8 hours later they were still sleeping, gathering their energy for the night’s hunt

We take a break for lunch and are allowed to climb out of the jeep for a bit. I ask him if he knows about the insect life, too, and tell him about my encounter with the battery-acid exuding bug….

He asks some questions, cautions me to keep the wound covered at all times, and tells me, “It must have been a Mopane moth, named for the  endemic bush veld here.”

I’m relieved beyond description to finally have an actual name for what bit me! But that night back at the lodge I go online and the Mopane moth doesn’t look anything like I remember. Crap. My feeling of relief vanishes.

**

The next morning at breakfast Uwe and I stop at the table where the German couples and guide sit so we can chat one last time and say goodbye.  The guide looks at me and says, “You know, last night when I returned to my room, I kept thinking about your story. I called a colleague and told him about it. He thinks the insect was a blister beetle.”

I don’t believe what I’m hearing. After a 13-hour day riding around on bone-jarring dirt roads lecturing to tourists, he went back to his room and called a colleague to consult with him about my insect attack?! Who does this sort of thing? A man who is a naturalist, a professional always curious to know more, and a fabulous human being!

Back in our room I google yet another insect and sure enough, there it is: the blister beetle. When I brushed it off my neck, it secreted a blistering fluid called cantharidin. It’s a dangerous burn agent, and in large doses it’s fatal.

There are about 7,500 kinds of blister beetles in the world (oh, joy). It gets weirder. Male blister beetles secrete cantharidin as a ‘gift’ during mating. Cantharidin is used for the notorious aphrodisiac Spanish fly. In 1772, the Marquis de Sade was put on trial after he poisoned an orgy with cantharidin.

Maybe that beetle was trying to make love to me after all.

NOTES: ©2023 Jadi Campbell. This post is for my father. He was an entomologist and I swear I can hear him chuckling. Bobbo would have LOVED this story. If for some creepy reason you need to know more, go here: Blister beetle Photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

P.S. My skin healed over without leaving a scar. Thanks for asking!

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

 

 

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