Yosemite National Park

Back in April, the Other Half was scheduled to take an additional licensing exam in California (which he passed!). He had his choice of several sites, but he chose to take his test in the community of Visalia, a quiet city whose morning scent of cattle reminds you of its agricultural origin.

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Oregon Coast Road Trip Part 3

The third day of our New Years road trip adventure, we begin in California. Humboldt bay shines on this winter morning, so white it shimmers like a mirage in the deeper areas. After breakfast, we decide to stick around the area and drive to the South Jetty, along the mudflats that comprise the driveable portions of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

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Let’s talk about rabies

Hydrophobia. Fear of water. Thousands of years after the first cases of rabies were recognized as a disease and characterized by this one fatal symptom in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, we are still fighting to eradicate it. Just last December, the World Heath Organization (WHO) authored an initiative with its animal counterpart to end human rabies cases by 2030.

Yes, that’s right. Rabies is still around, even in the United States. In Texas alone last year, 949 animals tested positive for rabies, many of them pets. Around the world, 55,000 people die of rabies each year, almost half of them children. That is over 55,000 lives cut short because of a disease easily preventable by vaccination. Unfortunately, the amount of infrastructure and the availability of medical care, including those crucial vaccinations, is markedly different between developing countries and developed countries like the United States.

There is one other key difference: the type of rabies that dogs commonly carry has actually been eradicated here, though dogs remain the main reservoir in other countries, including China, India, Africa, and most of South America. Instead, dependent on where you live in the US, you may find cases carried in bats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, and coyotes. And if you or your dog gets bitten by one of these critters, both of you could become infected and potentially even transmit the fatal disease to others.

A few weeks ago, I visited central Texas for a family shindig, and we had the opportunity to visit one of the caves in the area. During our tour, we were able to see these little guys:

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Once known as the eastern pipistrelle, they are now more commonly known as the tri-colored bat. They are often solitary or in small groups at the edges of caves and agricultural areas of the eastern US, though much remains unknown about their daily habits.

During our tour of the caves, our guide informed the group that these bats are too small to bite and do not carry rabies. The key here is that these bats are the size of small mice. Would you believe someone if they told you that mice don’t bite? Of course not! Like mice, bats don’t often bite, but even the smallest of them will if threatened.

As to their ability to carry and transmit rabies, many ‘cryptic’ cases of human and pet rabies, where the original infected bite wasn’t identified, are not only attributable to bats, but to this species specifically. As a matter of fact, the tri-colored bat is one of the most common causes of human cases of cryptic rabies, and is a known vector, or carrier, of rabies in Texas specifically. In addition, Travis County in central Texas is one of the hot spots for positive rabies cases due to the density of bats living there. Though the risks of receiving an infected bat bite or scratch on a short cave tour are low, they do exist.

When I brought up my concerns after the tour, they were dismissed off-hand. There were kids in that tour and in other tours that will receive this information, and that is unacceptable. Even in the US, children are more likely than adults to receive exposures to rabid bats through touching them, picking them up, handling them bare-handed. And all it takes is one parent to believe this inaccurate information, to not get the treatment necessary after their child has been exposed, to have a child die because someone thought the bat was too small to bite them, and besides, they don’t carry rabies anyway. Right?

Wrong. Let’s talk about rabies. Let’s talk about the real risks, not downplay them so people aren’t cautious when they encounter wildlife or strange animals, or so they pay the ticket price for entrance into your attraction.

If you do encounter a strange animal, whether it’s wild or domestic, please don’t approach it. If it bites or scratches you, make sure to clean out any injuries, no matter how small, and get treatment from your doctor. Even when rabies isn’t a primary concern, other infections may be depending on the nature of the injury.

Yes, being outside with the diverse array of wildlife we have around us is wonderful, even beautiful at times. Please don’t forget, though, that nature’s beauty often comes with thorns.

Oregon Coast Road Trip Part 2

Just south of Newport the next morning, the dog reminded us that all of Oregon’s beaches are public access. The only limiting factor is finding parking when the weather is nice.

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We stepped out to enjoy the brisk morning, with the faintest frosty edges causing the sand to glisten even as we slipped our way along to the shoreline. Well, we did, at least. The dog ran at breakneck speed into the surf, only turning when he realized how cold it really was.

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Oregon Coast Road Trip Part 1

Woohoo! After a hiatus, it looks like I have some time to start writing again.

Over the new year, we decided to drive the length of the Oregon Coast, with the idea that we could start in Astoria and end at Redwoods National and State Parks before coming home. We got up in the dark hours of early dawn and began the drive to the coast.

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Rainy days at the Oregon Zoo

A short few days ago, the clouds hung low, seemingly ready to pour on us as soon as we left the house. The fog was just beginning to lift, and visibility was not great. Yes, it was another fine fall morning in the Pacific Northwest. We decided that driving far enough to escape the daily allotment of rain was out of the question, and our original hiking plans involved a narrow trail along a cliff wall, which didn’t seem like a great idea, so we cast about for something fun to explore nearby.

It turns out that when it’s raining, no one else wants to go to the zoo. You can skip along the pathways, ducking under the overhangs, sipping your hot beverage of choice, observing the animals from front-row seats.

Although some of the animals were inside and off-exhibit, most of them were outside. Some, like the lions, were especially frisky, while the African wild dogs and babirusas just curled up and slept the afternoon away. It was great fun to have the leisure to stay in front of only a few exhibits and really watch how the animals reacted to the changing weather.

And there is nothing more fun than attracting the attention of the mongooses because you childishly crawled through a tunnel and tried to stand up, only to hit your head with a resounding echo that causes them to run up and investigate.

Well, maybe not *all* of the zoo is fun.

 

Grand Teton National Park Day 2

Picture it: you pull into a rutted pullout at 5:30 in the morning. When you open the car door, all the warm air in the car exits with you, leaving you near-freezing in a darkened field. You hear a bison snort somewhere nearby, and your breath momentarily fogs your glasses as you exhale. You fasten on your headlamp, and your feet crunch into the packed gravel as you begin the half-mile walk to your destination. The half-light of dawn begins creeping slowly around you, allowing you to pick out sagebrush from grasses. Dark buildings loom before you. Ahead, it starts to sound like someone is playing foursquare with a rubber bouncy-ball.

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