Saturday, March 25, 2006

packing for the amazon!

I leave for the Peruvian Amazon Sunday for ten days. My fanny pack contains a roll of toilet paper, a pen, a CD player, and chocolate: essentials! :) I studied rainforest ecology in Australia in the early 1990s, and have seen rainforests in Mexico and Costa Rica, but this is The Amazon. Larger than life. I can't wait.

I'm going for an article I'm writing and my best friend Daline is coming with me before spending 6 months in a Buddhist monastery. She is so cool - upon leaving Moab, she got rid of everything she owned that could not fit into her truck. Wow. It reminds me of how Jesus told the rich man the way to receive the kingdom of heaven is to get rid of everything he owned. Which he couldn't do... but Daline, bless her heart, could and did. Such a brave and wonderful person she is.

Re our Amazon adventure: I love that after 12 hours of commercial flights, we have to drive twelve hours on a road that you can only drive on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays and the return direction on alternate days... Then there's a six-hour boat float down the river and finally we arrive at the Yine Lodge (, a community-based tourism project where a Dutch biologist and her Peruvian husband have taught the indigenous Yine Indians how to run a tourist project which they will ultimately take over within ten years. The Yine wear Western clothing but still hunt and subsist from the rainforests' bounty. I hope to also see another indigenous Machiguenga village, which is in quite a different state than the Yine.

So this will be the next in the adventures of the lemonhead sistas. First the Bahamas, now the Amazon! Daline & I met when we drove together to do a beach cleanup on Matagorda Island with Texas Environmental Action Coalition when we were both at Texas A&M. We're both scientists, environmentalists, spiritual beings, adventurers! soul sistas! Wish us luck and send your prayers our way. I'll report back when I return, April 6.

I leave you all with this beautiful and brilliant quote from author William Faulkner!

"I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.

He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

-- WILLIAM FAULKNER, address upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1950.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

why do Christians not use their brains?

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell.

Today I got my Texas Freedom Network newsletter with this quote from the televangelist Pat Robertson:

"They are racists, murderers, sexual deviants and supporters of Al-Qaeda -- and they could be teaching your kids! . . . These guys are out and out communists, they are radicals, they are, you know, some of them killers, and they are propagandists of the first order . . . you don't want your child to be brainwashed by these radicals, you just don't want it to happen. Not only brainwashed but beat up, they beat these people up, cower them into submission. AGGGHHH!!!!"

--Rev. Pat Robertson, attacking "radical" liberal professors on the March 21 episode of his show, The 700 Club.

I don't know about you, but... it got me thinking about a main reason why we have such problem with the attacks on science by certain religious fundamentalists, and how so much of the mainstream Christian crowd has followed them blindly along without much real understanding, is that Christians almost universally give other Christians more credit than any non-Christian. It's like somehow calling oneself a Christian automatically invokes some aura of authority, a spiritual verity that a non-Christian can't have. In a sense, those who bear the Spirit of Truth and follow the Way do have such an authority. But we are also told to test the spirits, to be as wise as serpents yet gentle as lambs, and that there are many who will claim "Lord Lord" who Jesus will dismiss in the end, saying he doesn't even know them.

Millions of people watch Pat Robertson. Why do supposedly educated Americans/Christians follow this garbage? You may as well be watching the devil masquerading as a preacher man. Get your brain out, Christians, and put it into action!

Science rescued our world from superstition and brought us so many technological, medical, and agricultural advances. Science can not progress with superstition, preconceived cooked up answers (like intelligent design) and attitudes like "well if I can't understand it, God had to do it." God is involved in everything, and yet the natural realm and supernatural must be separated, non-overlapping magisteria as Stephen Jay Gould called them. Robertson was relaying info based on a new book about "The Professors: the 101 most dangerous academics in America" ( We need a book about the 101 most dangerous Christians to the faith...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

North Country

I watched the movie North Country the other evening, a true story about a woman fighting for decent treatment by men in the coal mines when the men didn't want women around but were forced to by a Supreme Court decision. In the movie, Charlize Theron portrayed a woman who had a fighting spirit - she was not a husky hardened woman like some who worked the mines, but a feminine woman with a interminable spirit. She refused to let the men treat her - and the other women - in such an inhumane way even when the other women were too frightened to stand up for themselves against the abuse.

What wrenched my gut was the rape scene - not by the coal mine workers, but a flashback of her schoolteacher when she was 16 years old. Her character had sued the coal mine, and the defendant lawyer tried the "nuts and sluts" approach to discrediting her story by saying she had many sexual partners and didn't even know who the father of her son was (as if this had anything to do with the abuse by the workers). She never revealed to her father until the trial that her son's father was her schoolteacher who had raped her. And her boyfriend at the time, who currently worked at the coal mine, witnessed it but lied on the stand and told everyone that the sexual act was consensual. The plaintiff's lawyer finally got the witness to admit she was raped.

It - of course - made me sob as I remembered the rape I endured (and have written about before on the blog) at age 15. The movie didn't explicitly make the connection but I relate to her adamant insistence of fighting injustice even when it seems an impossible battle. In many cases, standing up for justice and truth and integrity has not gotten me ahead, though it has gotten me out of bad situations. But I also related to the fact that the witness denied it and blamed the victim - that happened to me.

A few years back, I randomly met the wife of the guy I was on the date with that night. His first words to his wife, after she relayed that she'd met me, were, "Was that the girl I dumped on her front lawn?" (indeed, yes). And then she relayed that he'd mentioned that I'd had sex with someone else on a date with him. (When in reality I was raped and yet he blamed me - though I was utterly passed out beyond the ability to walk). Interesting how he could not recognize that it was obviously a rape and - like me - had denied the power of that truth for that many years. He felt awful in retrospect but how strong is our denial sometimes!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Louisiana black bears

I just returned from a week in the field with biologists working on a program to relocate federally threatened Louisiana black bears from the Tensas National Wildife Refuge (the Singer Tract, which was the last known holdout for ivory-billed woodpeckers) in Louisiana to a Wildlife Management Area further south, Three Rivers WMA. It was a very interesting view into the project! Louisiana black bears have already started spilling over the border into Texas, and there are talks (but no plans yet) to possibly bring in bears to Texas but not without the support of the landowners. Louisiana has been very successful in that regard.

Here are a few photos from the week:

Two beautiful Louisiana Black bear cubs (Ursus americanus luteolus) before being placed back in a den box with their mama in Three Rivers WMA in Louisiana.

Biologists remove wintering females with cubs from their dens in the tops of hollowed-out ancient cypress trees (the whole tree is not hollow - just the den near the top). A climber will ascend the tree, anesthetize the mama, and use ropes to haul her down the tree and into a boat if the tree is in a slough, or into an ATV if on dry land. Because it is a warm winter, some of these bears are already active. The photo doesn't do justice to the size of the cypress tree!

The crew moving the bear from the piroe boat to the back of the ATV in the palmetto thicket, Tensas NWR.

It can take a long time to get the ropes in the right place on the tree, climb, anesthetize the bear, wait until she's gone to sleep, and haul her down. Hence the project involves a lot of waiting and standing around!

Dr. Joe Clark from USGS/University of Tennessee, and Paul Davidson, Executive Director of the Black Bear Conservation Coalition holding the paw of an adult black bear female.

Dave Telesco, BBCC Private Lands biologist, holding two cubs.

A bear cub looking wistfully from the safety of someone's boots.

The final step - mama in her new den box with her cubs, before closing the lid until she emerges permanently within a few weeks.

All photos Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


I'm heading out Sunday with a group of biologists to relocate endangered Louisiana black bears for an article. I'll be gone for a week, and I would be more excited but I have been too busy to think about it! We will take bears from the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge and relocate to southern Louisiana. It should be very cool, because the momma bears have cubs with them in their dens. I hope to get some great photos.

For those who don't know, I worked on a project studying Alaska's McNeil River grizzlies via remote videocam when I was at Texas A&M a few years ago. I developed a curriculum program for biology students to learn about "Evolution in Action" by asking why grizzlies evolved aggressive behavior. You can see it online here. I developed the website, wrote all the text, and designed the actual curriculum module (which is an interactive Excel file). Some of the video clips were taken from the McNeil River grizzlies.

I'm also trying to get down to the Peruvian Amazon - was supposed to go at the end of March (even got my yellow fever vaccination today) but that may have to be postponed until April. I have some logistics to work out. Lots of cool travel planned in the days ahead, and lots of work keeping me busy!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

overcoming fear of flying

Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today, I made yet another small step in overcoming a longstanding fear of flying, of teeny weeny planes and being at the mercy of the raging unknown land where I do not have "control".

I flew in a Cessna Skyhawk across Houston and it was an absolutely glorious ride!! I absolutely LOVED it. Takeoff and landing was a breeze! I thought it would be scarier or more bumpy than a jetliner, but in fact it was smoother and easier. It surprised me how quickly you take off of the runway, and how smooth the landing. I am sure it is not always this way, but today it was the perfect flight.

When I first got to the airport, standing outside the plane the size of a car, I thought, "What have I got myself into?!" Earlier in the week, I seriously considered just letting the videographer go with the pilot and I'd stay with my feet safely on the ground.

What you have to understand is I had a paralyzing fear of planes and flying for many years. As a kid, I flew back and forth between my parents by myself, from age 8 or so. After I met my then-husband and sometime after the big massacre in Luby's Cafeteria in Texas around 1992, I started to let fear stop me from doing certain things, including flying. I'd fly, but very very rarely. My ex and the kids DROVE 10,000 miles - to Alaska and back - if that gives you an idea of the preference I had to drive than fly!

They were certainly irrational fears. You could recite the statistics about how planes are safer than driving until you're blue in the face. Yada yada yada. Whatever. It didn't matter. When I let the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see grizzly bears up close at Alaska's McNeil River slip away because of my fear of a float plane, soon after, during my divorce I vowed to not let my fear stop me from doing the things I love. Which meant I better get my little hiney into some airplanes. And fly I did! I have flown a dozen legs, in the past 2 years since my divorce, to the Bahamas, to visit my dad in Oregon, to ski in Colorado (also a first), to New York City, to Virginia, to Florida...

But the little teeny weeny Cessna? Now that is a different story. I truly thought I was going to hurl - before we left the ground. But I said a prayer, crossed my heart, and felt lifted as on the wings of an eagle as we soared slowly up above the Addicks Reservoir, above the trees, across the suburban sprawl. What a rush. We flew up the San Jacinto River to view the sand mining devastation from the air. It was a bit hazy, but I think we got some great footage. I enjoyed it so much, I seriously considered that perhaps one day, I might just take flying lessons.