Monday, October 27, 2014

Bugs, Slugs and Creepy Crawlies...

Halloween Treat - Bugs, Slugs, Bats and Creepy Crawlies

Big Spider in Angkor Wat Cambodia
As we close in on Halloween, I started thinking about some of the bugs and other critters I've come across in my travels and thought this would be a good time to share. I have posted a few of these pics, but not all by a long shot. I often get asked what is the biggest, baddest, creepiest bug I've ever encountered and that one is no contest at all. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of it, but I will tell you the tale and you can find plenty of pics and videos with a quick Google search.

It was about a year ago (October 2013) when I was attending Yoga Teacher Training in Northern Thailand and we were observing evening Satsang in the dark up on the raised platform at the Ashram. I was sitting in the back next to one of my room-mates Sutham, a really wonderful and seriously fit Thai guy. So there I am, eyes closed in the silent darkness and listening to the sounds of the jungle all around us. It's beatific. I feel a funny tickling sensation and some indication of size running across my feet as I sit cross-legged in Padmasana on my mat. I open my eyes and look slowly down. What I see in the gloom slightly freaks me out, but somehow have the presence of mind to stay perfectly still. It's a giant centipede approximately 11-12 inches long creeping slowly across my feet and mat. It's effing huge and I've never seen an insect like it. I remembered that either centipedes or millipedes were fairly poisonous and extremely aggressive, but couldn't remember which.

Once it was off my feet and heading toward Sutham, I nudged him and pointed it out to him. I was hoping to warn him, but also ask if this kind was poisonous or dangerous. I figured since he was Thai, he'd probably know how to tell one from another. I got my answer a couple of seconds later when his eyes adjusted and he saw it. Holy Fire Engine Pants Ablaze Get the Hell Out and Head for the Exits Batman!!! He 's airborne just like that and yelling warnings to everyone at the same time he grabs a rolled up yoga mat and begins whacking at it feverishly. So I got my answer then I guess.

As soon as he takes his first swing, just missing, Battle Centipede Galactica puts on the afterburners and just... flies warp speed fast into the mass of people sitting quietly in front of us. I had no idea something like that could move so flipping fast and be so agile. It was just... everywhere all at once. The lights go on and people are yelling and panicking. Most don't see it or know what they're escaping from, but they do know there is something dangerous among us. The instructors are trying hard to maintain the quiet civility of Satsang Meditation, but they don't see the monster among us. Eventually we manage to sort of sweep it off the raised platform and back out into the jungle, but man, I've never seen anything like it. I watched some YouTube videos much later after I returned home and those suckers are tough, aggressive and will eat just about anything including birds and small mammals. In fights with just about anything even remotely their size including snakes, scorpions, spiders and whatnot they always and I mean always won. I did see centipedes as big as 6 inches again (a couple of times in my hut), but nothing to equal that one. Whew.
Fairly large scorpion meets hand... 
I have seen some large spiders here and there, but nothing as big as the colossal Bird Eating Spider or these guys supposedly as big as a dinner plate in the jungles of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia etc. I was half hoping to see a Cobra in the wild (and half hoping not), but only saw one in Tonsai as part of this sort of snake charmer, fire juggler act. Big snake for sure but not in the wild. Here are some other pics of other things..

Giant Fruit Bats. Very docile and harmless though.

Cockroach companions for lunch..

Yeah who knows...

Scorpion Nest. How... cozy...

Fog of Death just outside my window in Chiang Rai
 The picture above is from my room in the beautiful jungle retreat I stayed at the last night before going on to the Ashram and dorm style accommodation. Gorgeous place. Early the next morning I hear the sounds of little leaf-blower engines and then the world goes all cloudy white smoke outside. It turns out they are spraying for malaria carrying mosquitoes, but this super eerie special effects smog just envelopes my hut so you can't see anything. Then with doors and windows shut tight it seeps into the room and suddenly I'm breathing clouds of insecticide. Oh yay.

Jumbo Cambodian Cockroach. See tale below...
So the giant Cockroach in the picture above was waiting for me in the room at my hotel in Siem Reap Cambodia when I got there. It was about 5 inches long and very fast. Small room so I did manage to corner the little f*cker and then just hammered it with my sandal, the 44 Olu-Kai, Apparently they're tough little suckers because that hardly even phased it and the blow was spot on. So I had at it a couple more good whacks... Still alive... Are you kidding me?? At that point I managed to toss it into the toilet and send it far away. Oddly enough I never saw another one in my room there. Big boys in Cambodia.
Big Fruit Bat. Very cool actually.

Me and the Boa..

Beautiful outside bathroom in Bali, but leave a light on nearby and you get this in the sink at night. Fun cleanup.. not.

Big Gecko roomies in many places around SE Asia. They can be pretty vocal at times but otherwise cute..

Large Jewel Spider in Hawaii. Just gorgeous but kept vibrating so I couldn't get a sharp picture.

This snail was about 5-6 inches long and quite striking looking.

Fairly large Iguana and friends in Bali, Indonesia

Saw this guy on a wall in Laos. No idea what it was except it was really big...

Cockroach coming up for a share of the luncheon buffet. Oh Hello...

Big Spider on Bali Coffee plantation

It's hard to tell, this wasp was humongous.. Really beautiful though.

Some sort of LadyBug dude in Northern Thailand. I Love LadyBugs!!

Large snail in Bali

Giant Daddy LongLegs in NC - small body but legs about 6 inches across. Cute.
 That's all for now. I hope you enjoyed the pics and have a Happy Halloween. Boo!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Southern Appalachia - Deep in the Great Smokey Mountains

In the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina - Part 1

At the confluence of the Oconoluftee and Tukaseegee Rivers
I first came to North Carolina and the Great Smokey Mountains in August on my way to a workshop way farther up the eastern seaboard of the USA at the Kripalu Yoga Center in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. I wrote an earlier blog about this and you can find it here. About a month ago I got in my car at Denver and drove across country in a straight shot to be here. Even from Denver it's a long drive and things are pretty flat for much of that trip. Thank you Satellite Radio and iTunes. So how did I end up coming here you ask? Well it's a long story, but the Readers Digest version says I found love at Kripalu so I guess love brought me here.

I have to admit that the area surprised me with its beauty. The mountains are much more rugged and wild than my preconceptions allowed me and there is water everywhere. If you love water (and I do) then you'd love this place. Dell is not only a superlative documentary filmmaker, but also an incredibly talented kayaker. I'm hoping she'll teach me to be a better paddler..

I have to say that the Great Smokey Mountains are perfectly named. They are wrapped in a smokey mist nearly every day and it's just sublime when you can get a good long-distance view of them receding slowly into the distance. When the sun comes through and starts to burn off the cloudy haze,  the light effects are amazing. If you've ever watched the movies like Last of the Mohicans or Cold Mountain, you will have some idea of the landscape here.

Two significant things happened here pretty much right at the get go that put me in the deep end of the pool immediately. First, Dell's original cabin outside of Bryson City, NC could not get Internet service and I couldn't get a cell phone signal - at all. Without either of those I cannot work freelance remotely and that's a non-starter for me - both of us really. I need income. So we found a cute little cabin to rent off Hwy 28 between Bryson City and Robbinsville. We have excellent Internet here, but still no cell service for me. AT&T is sending me a micro-cell that should fix the problem, but it's been over 2 weeks now with no sign. Meanwhile I have to drive about a mile up the road to find even a single bar signal.
Barking Squirrel Hollow - Cabin on the left
Light from the window in our cabin

The cabin is cute and pretty remote, but perfect for our needs. Funny, but here I am a west coast native living in an honest to god "Hollow" in the Southern Appalachia. Who'd a thunk it huh? But it's gorgeous, tranquil and surrounded by nature. We have an angry, noisy little squirrel living just outside the cabin so we've name the place "Barking Squirrel Hollow". I think it needs a sign and maybe its own wine label... Possibly down the road. Hmm... The best award for name though goes to some new friends here. The local yoga teacher and her husband have a beautiful home at the end of a short road called "Possum Hollow". How much do I love that name? Also, a special shout-out and thank you to friends Bob and Gwen for putting us up in their cute little guest cabin during the time between moving out of one place and into the next. Their hospitality and generosity were truly wonderful.

The second significant thing was the Cherokee Full Circle event I was invited to join in by Dell. She's working on a long-term documentary project involving the Trail of Tears journey in 1838-1839 that I would term a mini-holocaust for the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes. This was a naked land grab driven by gold-rush greed resulting in the forced removal by the US Government of the so-called "5 Civilized Tribes" ending with the deaths of thousands. It's a truly heart-breaking story. Anyway, we spent a 3 day weekend at the Full Circle event and it was amazing. There were some wonderful people and incredible energy there. At one point during the proceedings, the originator and facilitator Dr. JT Garrett tasked me with designing a logo or symbol design for this particular event. The theme was "Bear Medicine". I only had a big pad of paper and jumbo magic marker to work with, so this is what I came up with:

As part of the event, we took a couple of field trips out to some beautiful and significant places in Cherokee. I had been to one or two with Dell already so knew how powerful they were. There are still so many places to explore and experience here. Haven't even scratched the surface. I will post more in upcoming blog posts. I didn't expect to find a bamboo grove anywhere around here, but there was a fabulous one right beside the Oconoluftee River in Cherokee. It's a wonderful place to walk through on a warm afternoon.

Bamboo Grove
Me and Dell
Beside the Oconoluftee River

Corn drying at Kituwah

So many similar, yet completely different things here and it's taking me some time to get settled and used to it all. The people are wonderful, warm and generous here. The landscape is lush and verdant. Although it's a temperate rain-forest here (like the Pacific Northwest) the trees are almost all deciduous rather than coniferous so right now the fall colors are just spectacular. When I take more pictures of the leaves and hills changing color, I will post those too.

There are tons of wildlife here and while some like bear and deer are familiar, some are novel for me. For example, there are a lot of good sized turtles here (I LOVE turtles) and sometimes they cross the road. Sadly, they sometimes get run over too. Dell took her chances on the highway to rescue a large turtle, but was surprised that it turned out to a pissed off Snapping Turtle. So her rescue ended up being even more exciting/hazardous than she'd originally bargained for. You really, really, really don't want to get your finger bitten. You could easily lose it. Here's a picture she took once it was safely in the grass. Thank you for saving that turtle Dell.

Here are some pics of a few other critters I seldom get to see. For example, I've seen Praying Mantises before, but rarely and this one was super jumbo. I also found this really cool Daddy-Long Legs spider in the Bamboo Grove too. Its body wasn't too large, but it's legs were maybe 5-6 inches across. I had my hand wrapped around a bamboo stalk and it just sort of wandered on to say hello. Kind of tickly. Another time I found this gorgeous spider with an intensely yellow colored and "pebbly" back, but unfortunately I couldn't get a picture that was sharp.

Let us prey...
Them is some serious leggies...
Okay, I'm going to wrap this report up for now, but I'll post more stories and pictures from my time here as soon as I can. Meanwhile I'll leave you with a few last photos of the water and sky here. I hope you enjoy.