Monday, December 29, 2008

Those things can come out of nowhere ... Puzzle #3

About 3 weeks ago I was preparing to leave for evening obs when Ben calmly walked up and asked if I wanted to see something. I said sure without asking what it was because Ben is great at finding cool animals and birds to look at. We walked a few paces up the driveway and he pointed to the a tree. I stared for a few seconds and spotted a ....

See if you can find what it was.

The last post had a baby Thompson's gazelle hidden on the right side of the picture. About two months ago there were hundreds of these around the Mara. They lay completely still in the grass to avoid being noticed by predators, like hyenas. They remain so well-hidden and calm that we almost drove over a few, but always managed to avoid them at the last minute.

Playing rough

The word "play" conjures all all sorts of warm childhood memories...playing tag, playing dress-up, and playing board games. However, among hyenas, play is a bit more of a contact sport. It helps individuals strengthen social bonds, enforce the dominance heirarchy, and learn combat skills. While play usually starts out innocently enough, it often ends up looking quite painful to one of the participants.

Here's Kneesocks, an adult female, playing a bit too rough with a cub named Bellagio. All morning long, she was having tons of fun picking cubs up by their legs and flipping them over. The cubs seemed less enthralled with this game than Kneesocks did.

Among siblings, there's a very fine line between harmless play and painful rivalry. Here, Conspiracy is sandwiched between his mom, who is trying to give him a bath, and his dominant brother Chaos, who is about to give his ear a nasty bite.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas dinner in the Mara

Vegetarians, turn back now. Although, since you’re reading a carnivore blog, I’m assuming you have no objection to – or even get some gratification out of – the consumption of large amounts of meat.

Forget ham, turkey, and leg of lamb…the Maasai celebrate with nyama choma. It literally means “roast meat,” and throughout their history, the Maasai have perfected this delicacy. Here’s how it happens.

Fresh meat – ours was goat, although beef is also traditional – is loaded onto spits, kind of like a giant shishkabobs. The spits are stuck into the ground and bent over a fire. As the meat roasts, the spits are turned so that all the meat is cooked to perfection…the outside is crisp and deliciously caramelized, and the inside is juicy and perfectly tender.

Once it’s done, the spit is removed from the fire and stuck in the ground, right in front of you. It’s cut off the bone with a panga (Maasai machete), and eaten straightaway. No need for plates, silverware, or extra seasoning. Napkins, while absent from our feast, are definitely a plus.

Since there’s no way anyone can actually consume this much goat in one sitting, the leftovers are wrapped up in leaves and taken home. Much more environmentally friendly than Styrofoam or aluminum foil! Just remember to keep your Maasai doggie-bag safely tucked away to avoid losing your leftovers to hungry hyenas.

Simple, traditional, delicious.

Hope your holidays are as happy – and scrumptious – as mine!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jingle Bells

On December 24th I set out for Nairobi to meet a friend that was arriving from the U.S. I woke up at 4:30am and by 5:30am Steven had flagged the matatu (bus) down for me. We hopped across the river and something fairly large made splash. Neither of us saw it, probably just a mudfish... The place we crossed the river was pretty close to where they hyenas and lions had holiday zebra feast.

The matatu was crowded, so I was happy to get a seat. It was still dark and the only thing I could see was the silhouette of the r'ungu carried by the Maasai men. The r'ungu is basically a club that I commonly refer to as a "head knocker." Most Maasai men carry these and they are easily capable of crushing the skull of an attacking animal. The first leg of my trip went extremely well, a little too well maybe, and I was in Narok by 8:30am.

I then waited about an hour for the next matatu that would take me to Nairobi. This matatu was not a bus, but a small van that crams in 14 people for a ride that should take a little over two hours. These vans are the one of the primary methods for people to get around in Kenya, and given that it was the day before Christmas it was a busy day for public transportation. I have mentioned before that the roads in Kenya are not well maintained, so it is a bumpy ride. It has also been very dry the past two weeks, adding blinding dust to the rickety ride. After the driver got in the vehicle, it took him approximately 1.5 seconds to honk at his first pedestrian. A few more minutes to whip out his cell phone. If there was an olympic sport for honking a horn, these drivers would sweep the gold medals without a doubt. I think some of them have their hands on the horn more often than the wheel.

At one point we were bouncing along a dusty road and the CD the driver had in started playing "Jingle Bells." This cracked me up, since I grew up in the great state of Minnesota where I am used to having snow and it being very cold when Jingle Bells in playing. Today, I had 90 degrees and dust tornadoes instead. I bounced along as the singer rang out "in a one horse open sleigh" and I couldn't help but grin and take a bit of video of the road. The video is about 45 seconds, but if you listen closely, you can catch the holiday spirit of the road without getting carsick in just a few seconds. (Note: due to limited badwidth in the Mara, we are currently unable to upload the video. We hope to have this video inserted here in the near future).

Before reaching Narok the matatu must drive along the treacherous road running up the side of the escarpment, basically a road along a cliff. The guard rail has been ripped apart in many places where unlucky travelers have plunged over the edge. The matatu drivers are not known for being cautious and routinely pass vehicles on blind curves and hills, so it makes for an exciting ride to say the least. That was the least of my worries on this day.

About half-way up the escarpment we were pulled over at a police checkpoint. The unfriendly policeman directed us off the road into one of the few spots to pull off on the road. After we pulled off the road, a flood of other matatus began spilling into the area. Apparently, the brains of the police force had decided today was a good day to check all the matatus to see if they had a functioning speed governor. Matatus are supposed to have a speed governor that limits the top speed of the vehicle to 80 kilometers per hour (kph). Earlier in the ride my matatu hit 140 kph, so I knew our vehicle was going to fail the test.

The driver disappeared for while and while he was away a random guy stopped by and told us to move the car. A young kid quickly jumped in, started the car and tried to move it. One problem with his plan, I am sure he had never driven a car before. First, he tried to drive it when it was in neutral. No dice. Then he managed to get in into third gear and stall the van again. No dice. Then he just held the clutch in and let it roll backwards until he was evicted by a few of the passengers.

The driver came back after a while and began peeling his insurance sticker off the window and admitted to me he would not pass the inspection. I guess he figured the fine for not having insurance was better than the fine for not having a speed governor. A minute later I saw him shaking hands with one of the police officers and I knew something shady was going on. A few minutes later he was back and drove the car to the back of the crowd. The police officer ordered us to go out front and then shut the gate behind us. I knew it was going to be a long time before that van was going anywhere.

By this point it had already been an hour delay for all the people that earlier in the day were excited to see their family and friends for Christmas. The inspectors finally showed up, both of them. I have no idea why they pulled over more than 50 vehicles, then had only two inspectors that arrived an hour after pulling people over. Then I remembered the first rule of the Mara: "Don't apply logic." We were not in the Mara, but the rule is pretty general and can be applied throughout most of Kenya.

After about 15 minutes of wandering aimlessly, the inspectors decided they could now inspect a few cars. To do this, they jacked up one of the back wheels. I will stress, they only jacked up ONE of the back wheels! Then they had the driver floor it to see if the vehicle would shut off at 80 kph. Needless to say, most of the vehicles did not. I saw people standing in front and behind of vehicles with one wheel jacked up and the driver pushing the gas pedal to the floor. A disaster waiting to happen.

The other passengers were very nice to me and kept me posted on what was going on, since my swahili is still not very functional. After about two hours of this nonsense, a student that was on my matatu signaled for me to walk back to the van and get a partial refund. I did this and then followed a few of my fellow travelers to the highway. I had been told hitchhiking along this highway was not allowed, but so is running red lights in Nairobi and everybody does that. My new friend led the way, walking up the escarpment towards Nairobi.

After about 15 minutes of walking we flagged down a bus and we jumped in while the bus was still rolling. The bus had what I believe was Christmas music blasting and was in a festive mood! I decided to go for my second snickers bar and finish my second coke, all of the food I had for the day so far. A couple hours taking care of business downtown, then another half hour bus ride, some food, and another half hour bus ride and I was at my final destination.

As much of a sweaty, cramped, strange day it was, I had fun. There is no better way to get to know a place that take public transportation. Jingle all the way!

Moss: the hyena we hate to love

Yes, I constantly wax poetic about how adorable and charming our hyenas are. However, I’ll admit that they aren’t all beauty queens. Moss is arguably the least attractive hyena I’ve ever seen. Her fur is constantly dirty and matted, she has a chronic drooling problem, and she’s blind in one eye. In a word, she’s repulsive.

But, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For some reason, the boys love Moss…she’s constantly being courted by at least one admiring male, if not a gaggle of three or four. Even the females in the clan fawn over her, ingratiating themselves at every opportunity. Between her undeniable popularity and her unforgettable appearance, there’s just something very intriguing about Moss.

If you’ve been reading our blog since the summer, you’ll remember that Moss
lost a young cub back in July. Well, I’m thrilled to report that Moss is now guarding a natal den! Apparently all that attention from the clan’s males has paid off, and she’s getting another shot at motherhood.

Let's just hope that these kids inherit their father’s looks.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ever have lions, hyenas and leopards with your cornflakes?

I woke up at 4am today to the sound of multiple lions roaring. Lions roaring at night is pretty common, but these sounded as if they close enough to be looking in my window. The roaring continued off and on for about 30 minutes, then a chorus of hyenas whooping broke out and was quickly answered by more lions roaring. The never-ending battle between lions and hyenas was on in full force this morning!

Lesingo, our fearless askari (night watchman) told us the lions had killed a zebra about 200m from camp. We have two askari in camp, Steven and Lesingo, and I am amazed that these guys walk around camp at night chasing lions and elephants away carrying only a flashlight and a spear. We certainly don't want to kill any of the animals that wander into camp, so these guys keep the animals at bay without ever actually using the spear. Experience and the ability to stay calm go a long way in the bush, not that I would consider myself to have either of those compared to Steven and Lesingo.

Ben and I got in the car and headed out to investigate. We had driven about 50 meters when we saw a hyena lope across our driveway. We then drove around in the bushes and saw 5 more hyenas and 4 lions. Even the lions were running around this morning. This is unusual, because normally the only thing lions do is lay around, just like a lazy house cat. We continued circling the bushes for a few minutes and then found the whole pride.

There were 4-5 adult lioness, 3 young males and 4-5 lion cubs, 12 lions total. The 3 young males were getting pretty big, but not large enough to have their own pride yet. I suspect they will soon be kicked out of the pride by their fathers. Such is life in the Mara.

An hour later we found an even more rare occurance. For the first time since I arrived this year I saw a leopard (Sorry you missed it Leslie). It was up in a tree, just waking up from a nap. It stood up on the branch, arched its back to stretch and then quickly disappeared into the bushes. Leopards are not that uncommon in the Mara, but seeing one is uncommon and I think they are the most striking animal out here. They are very stealthy, active mostly at night and spend most of their time in bushes and trees. Don't be surprised to see a leopard in one of the future "Those things can come out of nowhere..." blog entries.

Ok, so I didn't have cornflakes today, but all of this occured before 7:05am today. How is that for a morning commute?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Those things can come out of nowhere ... Puzzle #2

For those of you that posted comments on the first picture in the series, there were three elephants in the first picture. There was a little one hiding in the bushes. In this group there were probably 8-10 elephants that were sneaking in and out of the bushes. I hope you can visualize a minute before I snapped this picture, when the huge elephant with the tusks was completely hidden in the bushes!

Here is the next picture.

Hint: Things are often hidden in the bushes, but sometimes things are hidden in Plainview.

Motherly love

I'm pretty sure Agent Orange is the most patient mother ever. It takes a saint to put up with these two rugrats...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What's big, grey, and has two huge horns?

Yesterday, I was having a miserable time finding hyenas - no matter where I looked, they just weren't there! I was frustrated and ready to call it an evening. All of a sudden, I came face to face (well, with 100 meters between us) with something that definitely made up for my bad night...

Last I heard, there were fewer than 10 black rhinos here in the Western Mara. Divide that by the Mara Triangle's 197 square miles...well, you do the math. They're also very shy, spending most of their time in the bushes. You really only see a rhino if you know exactly where it's been hanging out, or if you're unbelievably lucky.

It was one of those rare "right place, right time" moments.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Those things can come out of nowhere ... Puzzle #1

Countless times in my 6 months in Kenya I have been surprised when and animal suddenly seems to appear out of nowhere. One time in particular stands out in my mind. It was early in the morning, before the sun creeps over the escarpment to the east. We were following a small group of hyenas and surveying the scene. We stayed in place until the suns rays illuminated the Mara. Soon after the sun made its daily appearance, a group of about 10 elephants appeared on the horizon 300 meters from our research vehicle. The terrain we were in was relatively flat, so we were astonished that more than 15 tons of mammal could sneak up on us on an open plain!

The elephants trudged slowly along, making their way to the next group of trees and bushes. Within 10 minutes, the elephants vanished into the bushes. The only way to know the elephants were in the bushes was to either see them go in or listen for branches and trees being snapped by the powerful animals.

This will be the first post in what will hopefully be a fun series of interactive "Where's Waldo" type puzzles. I will post a picture with hidden animals and the blog readers can try to find the animal or animals. For each picture posted, I will give the story behind the picture in the following blog post in the series. If I told there story at the same time as the picture being posted, it would make it too easy. Of course, since I am a poor graduate student, there will be no reward for people that correctly spot all the animals. The first picture is an easy one, but it should help blog viewers to comprehend how an 8,000 pound (~3600 kilogram) animal can be there one minute and gone the next without having David Copperfield in area.

So how many elephants are in this picture?

Most Responsible Safari Guide 2008

Over the last month, Audrey and I have been working undercover.

The Mara Triangle, in conjunction with the Travel Foundation, is holding a contest to find the “Most Responsible Safari Guide” here in the Western Mara. Exemplary guides from several nearby lodges were nominated, and Audrey and I were asked to judge each of them. Do the guides follow park rules? Do they maintain appropriate distances while watching animals? Do they inform their guests about more than just the “Big 5?” In order to run a fair contest, we needed each of the guides to think we were tourists, so we had to go incognito and pretend to be ordinary guests at each lodge.

After living in the bush for so long, passing as tourists didn’t necessarily come easily to us. Audrey had to give her feet a good scrubbing and actually put on a pair of shoes, and I was forced to trade in my grungy sweatpants and vest for something a little more socially acceptable.

When we agreed to help out, it didn’t occur to us that some perks would go along with the job…but we quickly realized that some fun was in store for us. African safari lodges offer unbelievable luxury, and as “tourists,” we got to experience it all. Audrey and I are what you might call “low-maintenance” (I guess you’d have to be to spend as much time in a tent as we do), so the opulence came as a definite surprise to us. Out here, you don’t just get wake-up calls like you do in normal hotels…you get tea, coffee, and biscuits brought to your bedside at the appointed hour. Your giant, fluffy bed isn’t merely turned down at night…a hot water bottle is placed between the sheets so it’s toasty-warm and ready for you. During the course of the contest, we’ve been treated to fantastic gourmet meals, personal butler service, and private Jacuzzis overlooking the Mara.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand; all the guides were fantastic, and it was a pleasure to evaluate them. Each and every one was very friendly, knowledgeable, and “responsible,” so it was really difficult ranking them. The winner will be announced by Christmas, but congratulations in advance to all the guides. And, thanks to the Mara Conservancy and the Travel Foundation for running such an important contest and letting us be a part of it all!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Philomen is our cook, maintenance man, heavy lifter, and all-around handy guy here at Serena, but it turns out he may also be the brains in camp. He’s figured out the ultimate baboon deterrent.

The baboons here are persistent and crafty. They linger in the bushes until we leave the kitchen tent unattended, then they make their move and take off with whatever they can carry...bales of flour, bananas, dirty dishes, anything. They’ve managed to open zippers, untie knots, and foil every single attempt we’ve made at primate-proofing…until now.

Philomen’s solution is elegantly simple: any time we’re away from the kitchen tent, he turns on the radio. The baboons hear the chatter and think we’re still standing guard, so they keep their distance. Genius!

I imagine those wily critters will figure out our trick eventually, but for now, we’re ahead in the baboon battle.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm out

Well I've been writing for over five months now, and by blog standards I think that means I've earned a sabbatical. So I'm signing off until May or June, when I'll return in full force. Now now, dry your tears! It won't be that long, you will make it. Until then, I'm leaving you with a sampling of some of my favorite photos that I've taken here. Actually, all these photos are from last year, because I haven't had a chance to go through this year's batch yet. So those will have to wait until next year.

I'll catch you all on the flip side. Until then... not disturb.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Presidents

A few weeks ago we noticed Navajo, the oldest hyena in the Talek West clan, sitting in the same spot a couple of days in a row. Her last set of cubs were getting pretty old, so we suspected she might have new cubs hidden somewhere nearby. We began checking up on Navajo every morning and night, hoping to get a glimpse of the new cubs, being careful not to get too close and stress the dedicated mother.

After weeks of checking we finally caught a fleeting glimpse of the new cubs. They quickly dove back into the den hole when they spotted us. I did manage to snap a couple of photos of the tiny cubs.

Navajo's lineage is American presidents. Her previous cubs have included Washington, Jefferson, Harrison, Roosevelt, Hoover, Carter, Lincoln, Kennedy, Madison, Monroe, Nixon, and Clinton. We thought it was a very appropriate time for Navajo to have new set of cubs, since there will soon be a new U.S. president. The new cubs will be named Obama and Reagan. It appears Navajo has moved her little presidents from their natal den to the communal den already.

Hyenas spend their firsts few weeks of life at a den with only their siblings and mother. Then the mother moves them to a den with all of the other cubs from the clan, where they learn to interact with other hyenas and where they rank in hierarchy. Unfortunately, the communal den is currently situated deep in the bushes, so we may not get another picture of the cubs for a while.

A change of scenery

The public's (or at least the media's) interest in hyenas continues! I spent the last three days with a TV crew filming hyenas in Amboseli National Park.

While I love the Mara, I have to admit that the Amboseli scenery is absolutely stunning. The picturesque park lies at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.

Beyond its gorgeous scenery, the park is known for its elephants. Thousands of these massive creatures call Amboseli home, and it's the best-studied elephant population in the world. Their presence is amazing, since they really dominate the landscape. They're everywhere...swimming in the swamps, resting under acacia trees, and lumbering across the dusty plains.

The "small" crew I was supposed to join - director, cameraman, sound guy - quickly doubled with the addition of a local producer, two drivers, and a (heavily) armed ranger escort. There's a thriving population of hyenas in Amboseli, so there was lots of good hyena action to film. The show is about animals with formidable predatory abilities, but I think the crew was much more captivated by the hyenas' charm than the "threat" they supposedly represent. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the show will manage to portray hyenas not only as fearsome predators, but also as intriguing and charismatic creatures.

The show should air on Discovery Channel in March - we will update you with details as soon as we know them!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Universal Language

***This post is dedicated to the members of Team Arts Bar (no apostrophe), old and new. Beat Team Baby Tee! See you January 2…

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that love is the universal language. There is only one International Language, and I will tell you what it is: football. Okay, soccer if you want (let’s take a moment to appreciate the irony that there are multiple English names for The International Language). Soccer transcends all languages: a goal is a goal in any tongue, and a well-executed slide tackle needs no words at all.

I have spoken The Language for almost twenty-one years now, and during that time I’ve played with my share of various nationalities. I’ve played with Mexicans, Brazilians, Englishmen, and now Kenyans. I can feel so out of place in a country and struggle to communicate with locals, but when I see people playing soccer, my worries vanish instantly. It is a great feeling to approach a group of people I don’t know and with whom I can’t converse, grinning like an idiot, and gesture that I want to play with them. I’ve never been turned down—it is the people’s sport, and all are welcome; that’s an unspoken rule of footballers everywhere. The playing commences and the Talking begins…passing, dribbling, juggling, and shooting.

The other day I ran into downtown Talek only to find that there was going to be a match. Each of the lodges in our area has its own team, and throughout the summer and fall they have an enormous round-robin tournament. The games draw quite a crowd and the ultimate winner maintains bragging rights until the following summer.

So I get to the field and I see one team sitting in a circle behind one goal, the other team nowhere to be found. “What kind of a warm-up is THIS?!?” I ask them with a smile. They inform me that the other team is running late because their car has broken down (this surprises no one). I point out that we can still PLAY, so a few guys get up and we start juggling in a circle. Then they get a call that the other team has fixed their car, hooray, and we start upping the ante a little (not to mention our heart rates), playing keep-away. I marvel at the fact that none of them seems the least bit perturbed that I have joined their pre-game warm-up, despite the fact that obviously I can’t play in the game—these games are official, with rosters and uniforms and referees and the whole bit. Only one or two of the guys in our circle speaks any English, but as I’ve said, this doesn’t matter at all. Keep-away doesn’t change much, even when you cross oceans.

Then one of them gets a call that, oh dear, the other team isn’t coming after all. So the guys start organizing an intrasquad scrimmage, and much to my delight, I am going to be included. But just as we start to make teams, two land cruisers come racing up in a cloud of dust and guys start pouring out of them like clowns out of a Volkswagen, pulling on cleats and uniforms as they run toward the field. Disappointing for me, but good for the home team. The game starts over an hour late, which really isn’t all that bad considering the attitudes toward punctuality in our area (“Oh, I’m late? Must be God’s will.”).

As the game begins, more people start wandering over from the nearby downtown area to watch. Some cheer, some clap, some just stand idly and chat with their friends. I get far too wrapped up in the game and whoop and holler with the best of them, jeering the referee at poor calls and groaning at missed opportunities in front of the net. When the visiting team is offsides I flail my arms and shout, although I don’t think anyone has any idea what I’m talking about and I get more than a few odd looks from Maasai (“Oh look, Crazy White Girl is here and has completely lost her mind and control of her faculties. How charming!”).

But my favorite part of all is halftime. In international-level play like the World Cup, not to mention in the States at any level, it’s typical for the team to go off and have a private meeting with its coach during halftime while getting some water and regrouping. Not so in Kenya. Here, the team goes and sits with the coach, but then—here’s the kicker (har har)—the ENTIRE fanbase moseys on over and joins them. We’re talking well over a hundred people who invite themselves to hover within inches of the sweating players, listening to what the coach is saying. And it gets better. After the coach is done giving his spiel in a mixture of Swahili and English—and, frankly, sometimes before—random people start chiming in their two cents about the game thus far. Fans, friends, miscellaneous goats, all are welcome to contribute their ideas about what could be done better. And the players actually listen, too, which is to their credit, because I know what I would have said if some random person came up to me at halftime, after I’d just run my butt off for 45 minutes, and began pontificating about how I should do this and that, but I don’t think I’m allowed to write it here. Instead, these men are polite and open-minded and even ask me MY opinion, which catches me so off-guard that I blush, smile, and shake my head. (Then, regretting that instantly, I pull the captain aside and inform him that no, you DON’T want your tallest and strongest guy taking the corner kicks, you want him IN FRONT OF THE NET. Duh.)

The men share two 1-liter bottles of water among them—not nearly enough in the equatorial heat, but they don’t need mothers—and then take the field. There is a short delay as a stray cow is herded off the field, but no one seems to mind. Soon the men are running back and forth once more, and when the home team scores the winning goal, I hoot and clap along with everyone else.

As I start walking back towards home, I pass a kid of about ten who is kicking a ball around on the sideline. I wave and he says something in Maa, and I just shake my head and shrug. He kicks the ball to me and I look up, grinning. Now those are Words I can understand.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bush mechanics

Before I came to Kenya, the only thing I knew about cars was how to fill them up with fuel; I probably couldn’t have told you the difference between diesel and petrol, or distinguished a spark plug from a spring bush. But there’s nothing like the rock-studded, creek-crossed Mara (not to mention the frightening obstacle course that is downtown Nairobi) to teach self-sufficiency in a hurry. While blundering my way through a series of minor disasters, I’ve learned few things along the way…

10. Let hyena cubs have their fun gnawing on bumpers, door handles, and license plates, but put your foot down when they start on the brake lines.

9. If you’re stuck in a hole and can’t get out, check that four-wheel drive is actually engaged. Otherwise, you’ll feel like an idiot later when you realize you wasted two hours (and your last pair of clean clothes) digging yourself out.

8. Don’t trust a guy on the streets of Nairobi who just happens to be wandering around with a full set of wrenches and “new” spark plugs.

7. Tow ropes can break. And when they do, you better duck.

6. Push-starting a LandCruiser is an excellent whole-body workout.

5. Apparently, two cheetahs sitting on your hood are heavy enough to make some serious dents.

4. With a spice jar and rubber gloves, you can fix almost anything. Seriously.

3. If there’s a cranky buffalo or a testosterone-fueled bull elephant anywhere in the vicinity, you’re about 10 times more likely to get hopelessly stuck in the mud.

2. When your mechanic says, “Well, how much do you want to pay me?” you can be sure he didn’t fix a darn thing.

1. No, that funny rattling noise probably won’t go away by itself. More than likely, it will get worse, eventually leaving you stranded overnight surrounded by a pride of hungry lions.

**Photo by Wiline Pangle

Saturday, December 6, 2008

MoMA: the Mara Branch

Some of the flora out here are quite spectacular. The bushes, especially, tend to take on shapes that really catch the eye. For example, the topiary above was not carved by an overzealous gardener—it just grows like that. It's the Mara's own form of modern art. Anyway, pictured below are a few of my favorites: the Daffy Duck Shrub, The Backpacker (that one really is amazing—check out his hat and his backpack!), and a tree I think looks like one of those giant paper dragon heads you might see at a Chinese New Year parade.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science