Thursday, March 15, 2012

How Do We Know ?

Just how do we know?  How do we find stuff out.  Knowledge acquisition has changed over the years.  Almost as fast as the knowledge itself.  Let's think about this a bit. I will use a recent observation as my example.

Stick Dropping.

There I sat.  The beach was almost empty.  Well, empty of people, there were lots of birds, plenty of bugs and even a few lizards a ways back, behind the windbreaks.  The wind was blowing.  In fact, that is why the beach was almost people free.  Fifteen miles an hour at least and at that speed it doesn't take too long for the flying sand to find eyes, nostrils and cameras.  Eyes and nostrils can easily be cleaned, but cameras........  Anyway, the winds were brisk.  If I positioned myself just right I could avoid most of the eye problems and all of the nostril issues, and hopefully the majority of camera calamities as well.  The beach umbrella was out of the question, so the sun was an issue too.  Isn't it amazing how we can adapt to changing conditions.  How about the other beach inhabitants?  This is where the information acquisition starts.  Let's watch the birds in the wind.  (Here is the first clue to "How we know what we know.")
What were they doing?  How did they react to a stiff breeze?  Batten down.  Get small.  Scrunch down.  Huddle together.  All good strategies.  The birds face into the wind and get down and close as many openings as possible.  Facing into the wind smooths the feathers, away ruffles them.  Get behind stuff.  Get behind other birds when you huddle together.   OR  Just play.  That's right, Play with the wind.

Remember Jonathan Livingston Seagull---  Do gulls fly or do they just feed?

 "Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight – how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating."

“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?”
First You Find the Right Stick

Then You Drop It In the Wind

Down It Goes

The Chase
Now doesn't this look like fun?  And it was not just a solitary bird.  Many of the gulls were "stick dropping."  Get just the right stick.  Not too big, the physics of flight forbid it.  Not to small, the physics of wind would just laugh at it.  Just right!  The birds spent a lot of time and considerable energy finding the right size stick.  They would pick it up, toss it into the air.  Pick it up again. Some got a piece of dried seaweed and tried that.  Not good.  Too light, and it seemed to fly itself, like a kite,  No that won't do.  It has to be a stick with just the right heft!   Then up, up into the wind.  When they got about 100 feet or so above the beach, let go.  The stick is heavy enough (remember the intense selection process.....,) it falls.  Gravity is working today!  The bird swoops, tries to grab it.  Sometimes a first attempt got it.  If that was the case, the gull let it go once again.  Often the first swoop failed and a second or third attempt was needed.  Of course, not all the gulls were successful.  Sometimes the stick hit the beach.  When this happened another flight ensued.

What is going on here?  Play?  Training?  And how do we know.  Well, that brings me back around to why I started this in the first place. How do we know what we now.  We Observe (see above.)  We also find out what others already know.  We research.  Now research has gotten very different lately.  WIKIPEDIA......   Maybe.  As a start.  But the Internet is filled with other places to find out stuff.  

What is this "stick dropping?"  Or am I the first to ever see this behavior.  I think not.  Let's look!

The authors conclude it is PLAY.  They go on to discuss the costs of play, and some of the benefits as well.  If you take the benefits into account you really can't rule out training.  But then again there are many behaviorists and education researchers that argue play is always a form of training. Benefits of Play Web Site

 It is how we learn, how we know stuff!!!!!! 
The PLAY is the thing.......

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Update---E-version (iHolidayNote)

Rich and Betsy’s 2011 Holiday Update
Rain--This seems to be the word of the year.  Of course you probably already know that, but since it is raining as I write it seemed appropriate.  Travel and biology in the back yard were big items for this past year.  Betsy loves retirement and has read almost every book ever published this past year.  Well, not really, but she is enjoying reading and keeping her list of “books read” up to date.  She also loves keeping up with “the Elementary School” escapades by volunteering to help with kindergarten and first grade one or two days each week. She enjoys seeing her friends, working with the little ones and the fact that she can arrive when she wants and leave when she sees fit is what retirement is all about.  Rich is continuing to “drag himself” to the Metropark Environmental Learning Center 3 days a week to help connect the parks with the schools in Lake County.  He has to watch the turkeys wander past the window, the deer stop by for a graze or two, the bluebirds nest and the Sharp-shined hawk soar in for a snack (sometimes of bluebird, or wren, but that IS biology.)  
Travel is always a big part of our year.  Spring found us visiting Kate and Madeline on our way to a short week in Williamsburg.  We love getting to be Grandma and Grandpa and a visit to historic Williamsburg is always one of our favorite things to do.  Once again we stayed in one of the historic houses, visited with Thomas Jefferson, went to an L.L.Bean outlet and this time enjoyed watching a nesting Bald Eagle near historic Jamestown.  Rich ran a week long teacher professional development about Lake Erie and then hit the road to help run the First Annual Biology Institute At Exeter. Betsy joined him at the end of the week for the lobster feast and to travel to two incredible weeks in the Artist’s Cottage perched overlooking   Penobscot Bay on Maine’s rocky coast.  This is the second year in “The Cottage” and two weeks of beautiful weather made the visit almost beyond wonderful.  Two weeks of photographing the waves and rocks.  Two weeks of reading on the deck and watching the lobster boats every morning.  Two weeks of talking to the laughing gulls and watching Monhegan Island drift in and out of view as the fog came and went.  
We got home and repacked for another Belizean adventure. Ten days is a tropical rainforest during the rainy/hurricane season.  Of course we had a great time!!  Really we did.  The rain in Northeast Ohio and the August temperatures made the jungles of Belize feel just like home.  With Mayan ruins, jungle critters, beautiful birds and great friends, the ten days spent in Belize were the kind of adventure you usually only read about.  Living it is much better.  
Our Fall Leaf Peeping was beautiful again this year.  We spent five days in Norman Rockwell’s Vermont home in West Arlington, Vermont.  The weather was great.  Cool enough in the evenings for a fire in the room and warm enough for a light fleece during the day.  The colors have been better in past years, but after the terrible floods from Hurricane Irene, just seeing how the Vermont people have worked together to rebuild made the short visit very enthralling.  
Fall brings Leaf Patrol Duty
Though we don’t see Megan and her husband Peter often enough and Kate and Madeline are seven hours away in Bethlehem, Pa, we talk to them and sometimes get to visit via Skype.  Madeline is almost five now and is a young lady instead of a little baby.  But she is still “OUR” little girl and is growing way too fast.  We are planning to see Kate and Madeline in a few weeks and will be spending a week with Megan and Peter in Florida in January.  
Fitzroy is still chasing leaves as they fly past the back door and the pond is still resounding with falling water (though the Blue Heron visited in early Fall and feasted on four of my seven beautiful fish--I guess that’s biology too!)  
The rain keeps coming and Fall is slipping into Winter.  We have had another great year.  Fun and Family and Friends have filled our lives.  We hope your year has been as satisfying.  Here’s to a wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy, Safe 2012.  
Rich and Betsy (and Fitzroy) December 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

How Can I Keep From Seeing Part Too --

The color inhalation continued.  Actually, south of where I live, farther away from Lake Erie, the trees are more brown than yellow and orange.  There are still some blazingly bright trees.  Some sluggish Maples and lazy Oaks, but the majority of trees have lost more than half their leaves.  Many have bare branches on top and fluttering colors on the bottom branches.  I think the winds of last week helped to clear the upper reaches of these trees.  But still, colors are all around us.

The swath of leaf color from green to pale green to yellow and red and orange make up the Fall vista.  The drops of dew glisten.  
Driving down the road I start to think of the science here.  The carotenoid and xanthophyll pigments are what we see.   The chlorophylls are "dying", fading away and the hidden colors show through.  I think of leaf chromatography and Rf values. Mobile phases and stationary phases.  Just the Biology teacher sneaking out.  Fall means color, and cool temperatures, and Halloween, and football games and pumpkins and paper chromotography lessons and photosynthesis and "Why do the leaves change color Mr. Benz?" "Is it the temperature or the day length?"  "What should we use to dissolve the colors out of the leaves to run our chromatogram?"  "Will water work?"  "How about alcohol?"  "If water dissolved the colors what would the trees look like after the first rain?"
Oh sorry, just a "teacher flashback".  Happens all the time.  No problem.  In fact, it usually brings a smile to my face.  If I happen to be around other folks when this happens I find myself teaching again.  (Whether they like it or not!)

But I must continue to look at the colors, and sometimes to peer throughout the colors to see the rest of the natural world.  Winter is coming and everyone is getting ready for this change.   My bird food doesn't seem to stay in the feeder quite as long.  The Fall ladybugs are getting everywhere.  On the house, on the doors, IN the house, everywhere.  Winter is coming and we must be prepared.  But wait, one last look.  I am remind.  I just can't keep from seeing!  

One last mole!

How Can I Keep From Seeing ?!?

Tell me--Just How Can I Keep From Seeing?   I know, the real title is How Can I Keep From Singing? But the point is --it is Fall (or Autumn,) in N.E. Ohio.  The sun is finally shining (an unusual event this year--2011 is the wettest year ever, Ever, EVER in Ohio.  Actually that is really hard to tell, but at least since we started keeping records.)  We had an early heavy frost, now dew is on the ground and on the leaves.  N.E. Ohio is alive with color. Beauty is all around.  The crisp air is punctuated with the falling leaves that have had their days of color and are now starting their journeys back to the nutrients that make up the forest floor.

Everywhere I go my eyes are treated with an incredible array of colors.  Just like in the Spring when the trees and shrubs and grasses are just starting to come alive with every green on the pallet, every color of yellow and gold and red and rust and even brown whisk by as I travel.  Actually this is a pretty dangerous time for me to be driving around.  The trees draw my eyes from where they should be. Texting while driving is stupid!  Using your mobile phone while driving is silly.  I guess looking at the passing trees is somewhere in there too, but it is almost irresistible!  It is much better to stop, get out, and actually look at the wonders of nature's colorfest.  Or--just look outside my back window.  Gaze out my back door.  Stand on my deck and feast on the sunlight and the colors.  With a cup of hot coffee or tea, a camera around one neck and a pair of binoculars around the other I can't imagine a prettier scene.  The birds seem more active, the light brighter, and the colors more magnificent than in the summer.  At least that is what my mind perceives. Maybe it is because we have had so few sunny days this year.  Maybe it is because I am looking a little harder.  None the less, it is bringing a smile to my face.  But how could it not?   Well a quick thought of the coming winter passed through my thoughts.  The Northeast got their first measurable snow last night and today.  But thoughts of snow and ice are only quick thoughts and the colors of Fall come back to the forefront once again.  The camera isolates the beauty.  It separates the incredible leaves and trees from the other incredible leaves and trees.  Sometimes this is good.  You can see details, notice specific colors.  But the awe is often in the panorama of color and light and dark that the eyes see and the camera misses. 
Yet, here I sit writing about it.  I think I need to go out again.  Be in the colors.  Smell the colors.  Feel the colors.  That's it -- you feel the colors of Fall!  Well, I need to go out feeling for awhile.  I'll be back.  I'll bring some colors back too!  I ask--How can I keep from seeing?  From smelling? From feeling?   

I can't  !!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Heron

Many years ago I ended a blog post with "what a strange species we are."  I was reminded once again.

Let me start with my pond.  It is not a large pond, just a small garden pond with a waterfall, lots of decorative rocks, some lily pads, of course too much algae and seven beautiful fish.  Well, make that three beautiful fish!!!   Actually,  now--  three bigger, older fish and three new small additions.  I'm sure you can goes the scenario.  But this is a very difficult situation for a biologist, naturalist, nature lover and garden pond aficionado.
Journal sketch of a pond I built long ago.
 I am not a new-comer to garden ponds. I created a small pond behind my garage back in 1994.  It was small, colorful and very peaceful.  I kept a few goldfish in it during the nice weather and brought them into my classroom in the winter.  When I moved I left it behind.  I'm sure it is a just a memory now, but for a few years it was my personal reflection spot.  I wanted to replicate the experience at my current house.  Six or seven years ago I had a little pond build next to our deck in a former herb garden.  Once again it was relatively small very peaceful and colorful.  A new place to enjoy nature and my own "entangled bank."  You might remember Darwin's 'entangled bank'.
"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Sitting on my Leopold Bench, naturalist hat on  waiting for a complex nature thought to come passing by.
A place to watch and to contemplate the "big questions."  I even added a Leopold bench this past year.  I wasn't taking any chances that a 'nature thought' might come and go and not be captured!!

"Big Guy"
So why are we a strange species?  I keep saying my pond, not the pond.  I created it so it is mine.  I bought the fish.  They are mine.  Before the pond it was an overgrown herb garden.  Now it is MY pond. But more than that.  I grew attached to the fish.  I was a bit reluctant to name them (except that I called the biggest one "Big Guy." )  That is him in the picture above.  A handsome, rather large, very colorful goldfish.  I suppose I grew attached because he was the last remaining fish from the original fish I stocked in the pond when it was new.  The others disappeared about three years ago, the last time I had a Great Blue Heron visit the pond.  That time it ate 6 fish and "Big Guy" (thought he was much smaller then,) was the only one that escaped.  He was in the filter box and stayed hidden.

One of the last photos of some of MY fish. 
He was the only one that survived a power outage a year latter when the power went out  and the water heated up in mid-summer while we were away.  He was a survivor!!   He grew and actually became pretty used to coming to the surface to get food.  (I think that might have been the reason for his demise two weeks ago.)  I had a total of seven fish.  Five goldfish of various sizes and two rather large koi.    That was then.  That was the population three weeks ago.  Now only three of the original seven remain.  ( I added three more small goldfish yesterday so the current population is up to five.)  How did this predator get the four big fish.  MY big fish?  I had taken evasive action after the last encounter three years ago.  I deepened the pond.  I built a rock cave house so the fish could hide.  I put nylon string around the pond and installed a motion-activated water sprayer called a "scarecrow."   This seemed to do the trick.  Well it did the trick for three years.  Then three weeks ago we saw another Great Blue Heron in the yard.  It was stalking the pond.  MY pond!  He (or she since it was a bit on the small size,) saw the fish.  They were huge.  They were colorful.  They were on the surface feeding.  They were MINE!   I chased him away, but he roosted on the roof of my neighbor's house. Waiting.  that is what BG Herons do most of the time. they wait.  Eventually he flew East.  two days later he was back.  By my garden.  Is the time right???  No, I made the noise of the water spraying 'scarecrow' and he flew away. What was I to do.  I put up more string.  What I did not do was put netting over the pond.  Big Mistake!  I never did see him again, but two weeks after the first sighting I didn't see my fish either.  I mean MY fish.  None.  Nada. Zero.  Here we go again.  How can I get so depressed at nature.  My house was not blown down by a tornado.  I did not get flooded out lie the folks in Vermont.  No huge storm surges like in New Jersey.  Just no fish.  It was because they were MY fish.  Taken from MY pond.  Three days later I caught a glimpse of first one fish then another.  They had been hiding.  Three were eventually spotted.  Not seven, three.  Four were missing.  How did the Heron do it?   I protected them  String.  Nylon line. Deeper pond.  Water sprayer.  But there it was.  Four missing, handsome, colorful, healthy fish.  There were still there.  One koi, and two of the smaller goldfish.  Scared, jittery, and often hidden, but still swimming in MY pond.  Boy was I depressed!  It is hard to reconcile with Mother Nature.  You know "Red In Tooth and Claw" and everything.  "It is all part of Nature."  "The Cycle Of Life!"  But they were MY fish!!  Taken from MY pond........  

Yesterday I bought three new fish.  One small koi.  Two small, cheap, feeder goldfish.  They have brought the population in the pond to 5 fish and lots of frogs.  Not MY frogs, just frogs.  Not MY fish, just fish.

I did not name the new fish!

Here's To You 'Big Guy'
Maybe if I started calling him MY Blue Heron.............

A strange species INDEED !!!

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Game of Survival In Houston/Bush Airport

   George Bush Intercontinental Airport  or IAH or as I have been calling it--The dreaded Houston Island of torture, humiliation, stress, terror and frustration.  The last time I ventured through the International portal of Bush airport the news was all about Swine flu.  Here is a news statement made in 2009 (the last time US Immigration and I met,) 

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement. Its officers are monitoring the health of incoming travelers and taking "all appropriate precautions," including referring a person with symptoms to a quarantine station or a local health official for evaluation."   

At that time I was sure that every Swine Flu (H1N1) case in neighboring Mexico was flying into the United States via Bush International and had arrived minutes before my flight from Belize City.  These coughing and sneezing people were standing in a mile long immigration line right in front of me!!!   Of course at this time I was concerned about my health and the health of my loved one--Betsy.  I was surprised at the length of the line, but it was the health of the other immigration "cattle" I was concerned about.  In 2009 I had 3 or 4 hours between flights and the long line was simply an inconvenience.  Well there was really very little to be concerned about.  Few incidents of Swine Flu occurred as a result of people bringing in the virus on international flights.  Flights from Mexico City were reduced and those that remained were monitored very closely.  I did not have any of these statistics in my head while I stood in the winding line that year, but all was fine.  I got through the line, I felt like a cow being led to the "end of days." I made it to my boarding gate and even had to wait a bit before we boarded the last leg of a very long day.  A little stress.  Some exhaustion, but relatively unscathed.  

Not this year!!!!

The day started on Caye Caulker at the Caulker "airport" as I mentioned in the first part of this two-part blog entry.  Our carrier, Maya Island Air is one of two airlines that serve this island. It is the smaller of the two with --

a modern fleet consisting of eight (8) Cessna Caravan C208's, one (1) Cessna 182, three (3) Britten Norman Twin-engine Islanders, one (1) Australian G7 Airvan and now three (3) ATR 72's.

Since we we were on a Caye, the flight was scheduled on one of the 12 passenger Cessna Caravans. (Since we had 12 people traveling in our group, this was a good choice of plane!)  
The 'terminal' at Cay Caulker Airport

Small and cozy.

Now I really did expect a small plane.  I knew the airport was small too.  It is kind of exciting anyway.  The plane landed early and was prepped, meaning--the door was opened for the passengers and the luggage.  The airport ground crew, luggage handler, emergency team member, ticket taker, etc. (all the same person,) wheeled out the luggage cart up to the open luggage compartment.  He took each piece of our luggage off the cart and placed it into the cargo hold of the plane while we squeezed 12 exhausted travelers into the 12 available seats (this includes the co-pilot seat which is considered the twelfth seat.)  Now as air travel goes, this is as unmysterious as it gets.  The plane comes in from another island, it lands, it taxies, we approach the boarding ladder, our luggage is on a cart right next to us, the doors open (passenger and luggage compartment,) people start to board, the luggage is loaded by the one employee at the airport, we get in our seats, the luggage door is closed, the passenger door is closed, we try to figure out how to use the combination seat belt/shoulder harness, lock, click, the propeller starts to turn we taxi, we take off.  Simple. Nothing hidden.  At no time were we separated from our luggage like in the big airports.  (Remember all of this until the next part of the story.) 

 In the meantime the flight is exciting.  Short, but exciting.  The layout of the Cayes is evident.  The colors of the Caribbean tell the story of the land, the shore, the runoff, the reefs, the depth of water, and the type of bottom--sand, coral, grass, rock, etc.
I know that this is the exciting,yet easy portion of our long trip home.  We are exhausted from the start, but this adds a little more thrill to the whole adventure.  The plane made its way across the short expanse of ocean and banked over the mangrove lined shoreline of the Belize mainland.  I desperately look for the last of the 'jungle' animals.  No jaguars, no tapirs, not even a parrot or two, but I have fun looking at the rivers and the few large tropical trees that extend above the shorter mangroves.  The small plane makes the Belize City International Airport seem like O'hare or Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International.  The noise stops and we sort of tumble out of our 12 seater onto the tarmac.  Into the terminal and now we await the delivery of our luggage.  We arrived early.  The flight actually took off 1/2 hour early because the plane was there, we were there and there was no real reason to wait for the official take-off time.  We had about a two hour wait after we got the luggage.  

Remember I suggested that you remember the paragraph above--no mystery in the whole process.  At no time did we lose sight of our bags.  Well, it's not really that simple. The bags started to arrive.  The conveyor belt had only our bags on it.  I grabbed my bag, I helped Betsy with hers and we both started to the main terminal to see about checking in for our flight to Houston.  The check-in desk for Continental/United was not even open.  We would have to sit and wait.    Hold-on----there are only 6 of us in the terminal.  What happened to the others?  We started with 12.  Twelve landed. Twelve got off the plane.  The luggage started coming we got ours and made our way to the main terminal.  How did six people get lost? Did something happen to them? We waited.  I figured there had been stops at restrooms, etc.  After about 20 minutes I was worried, so I volunteered to make my way back to the arrival terminal.  Down the path, around the building into the adjoining building and around the corner.  There they were.  Two bags had been lost !!!   Lost!   Lost  between the Caye Caulker 'airport' and the Belize City Airport.  Remember, small airport, bags on a cart, standing next to the cart, people board, bags board.  Twelve people, about 12 bags ( a few more because some carrry-ons couldn't be carried onto a small plane. )  How did they lose two bags?  This was not a disaster--there was another flight in an hour or so.  But how did they misplace two bags?  No long baggage conveyors. No customs. No bag inspection.  No one handled them between loading and unloading.  The cart had 14 bags.  We kind of expected 14 bags to appear on the mainland.  --(Hypothesis--The bags really did make the flight, but the baggage handler(s) at the Belize airport did not completely empty the cargo hold after it landed.)  But there we were--another mishap in a series of other mishaps.  Not disasters, just mishaps.  No major injuries, no earthquakes, no hurricanes  (one week after we got back home, a hurricane/tropical depression did cut across Belize dumping major amounts of rain--but not on us.)  The list of mishaps included missed flights for some, almost missing flights for others, getting stuck on the road into Duplooys, a few tumbles, a chair collapsing, a little digestion turmoil for a few on the Caye, a sink falling, a rudder coming off a boat,--mishaps.  Laughable in retrospect.  These are all parts of the story I guess.  But losing two bags on a short 15 minute flight!?!   All part of the story. 
The bags arrived, everyone reassembled and the journey continued.  The Belize City part was easy.  It always seems to be easy.  The last of the Belize money is spent, a few minutes to check e-mail in case someone really needed to get in touch with me before I boarded the flights home.  The waiting seemed a bit stressful because I know that a one hour lay-over in Houston was not going to be long enough.  What if the flight was delayed?  What about immigration and customs.  How far would we have to go from our landing gate to our departing gate?  Bush International Airport is a big place.   But wait is all we could do.  Good news, the plane arrived in Belize from Houston on time.  A short turn-around time was announced and an on-time takeoff.  It looked like everyone was there.   We took off close to on-time--not early, but on-time.
Goodbye Belize !

An easy flight.  We even land early.  We have about 70 minutes until the Cleveland flight is scheduled to leave.  The survival adventure begins.

Deplane.  Run into the terminal.  Where's the baggage pickup?  Where is immigration? Run through the terminal to immigration.  Where is everyone else?  Do we wait for everyone or do we try to get to the gate to hold up the departure until the others get there?  Wally and Norma do not have checked bags.  They can get there fast.  We enter the cattle runs.  Where is Temple Grandin when you need her.  Temple Grandin is the celebrated animal welfare specialist that was the subject of an award winning television special starring Claire Danes.  "Grandin's interest in animal welfare began with innovative designs for sweeping curved corrals, intended to reduce stress in animals being led to slaughter."  Wikipedia entry about Temple Grandin.  We needed her right now.  No curved corrals.  No tall walls so we could not see our future humiliation or slaughter.  In fact, I think the zigzag design of the waiting line corral is engineered to create stress.  That and the thought of missing connecting flights and being faced with the task of begging for a reassignment.  Will we have enough time to go through immigration and get our bags and then get to customs, get through customs, recheck our bags, go up to the airport security, go through airport security, get to the Cleveland flight departure gate all in 65 minutes or so?  NO WAY!!!  

Wait, the line over there is shorter.  Let's go!  Under ropes (straps really.)  There, now we are 10 people or so ahead of where we were.  This might make a difference and anyway, it makes me feal like I'm solving the problem because I am so good at figuring these things out.  Wait, this is the line for foreign nationals coming into the US, not for US citizens returning.  Yikes.  Back underneath the ropes (straps,)  and back to our original line.  We are 25 or so people behind where we were just a few minutes ago.  Good problem solver!!   The line IS a bit shorter than two years ago.  We made our flight in 2009.  (Of course we had a three hour layover and we did not have the stress of missing anything, just the stress of getting something (see H1N1 above.)  Maybe if I tell the agents that are standing around trying to reduce stress in the waiting citizens (I'm not sure if that is their job description, but it was not working here.)  "My flight is preparing to leave!" " I will be left behind !"  "Is there an emergency line for special people like me?"  No special line.  No faster way.  I am assured that I will make my flight.  The cattle inched ahead.  "Temple, where are you?"

We get to the front.  NO problems.  Next--Customs.

On to the baggage claim.  I notice a sign that tells where our bags will be as I am running (well, walking fast.)  Conveyor 10 I think.  I tell Betsy to go to conveyor 10 I will be there getting our bags.  Where are the others.  Wally and Norma are well ahead of us.  That is good. Wally is 80, Norma 81, they don't need to be running through the terminal.  Of course the bags are there waiting.  They did not have to stand in a long, winding line like cattle.  They did not try a shorter line to no avail like I did.  They were just on a pleasant merry-go-round ride with a whole lot of their new found travel companions.  I spot one, got it.  Where is Betsy's.  NO worries, here it comes.  Where is Betsy?  I look around. I am wheeling two cases, carrying my backpack with camera equipment.  I spot her. She was o the other side of conveyor 10.  We grab the bags and run.  Over to customs.  Another line.  Not as long. No zigzags. There are five lines.  No wait, only 4.  They bunch up.  42 minutes to go until take off.  35, we are at the Customs desk.  Easy.  Through customs with 35 minutes to spare.  A few of the others are in the back of the customs line, but not everyone.  Okay, 35 minutes and we recheck our bags.  Now only our carry-ons to worry about.  The clock is ticking, but I think we will be able to get to the gate in 35 minutes--even if it is in a different terminal.    


We need to go up a level to get to the next corridor that will lead to the main terminal and then to Terminal D where our gate is.  The escalator is just ahead. What's this?   Another line? Agents are stopping people from getting on the escalator.  Security is backed-up there is no where to go.  30 minutes or so from now our plane will be taking off and I will have to figure out how to get to Cleveland on another probably booked-up flight. An extra day on the road is not a life or death tragedy, but my cat is expecting us and I need to cut the lawn, and besides, this should not be happening to us anyway!!!   I am pretty sure we will not make it now.  Finally we get on the escalator and enter the line for airline security.  You guessed it.  NoTemple Grandin design here either.  Zig-zag all the way.  Everyone is stressed.  An emergency line now?  You know, for people that are likely to miss their flight.  NO WAY!  I see Wally and Norma.  What are they still doing here?  Their zig zags past us and they tell me that it has taken them 30 minutes to get this far........    STRESS; STRESS;STRESS.

20 minutes.

18 minutes.  We are getting closer.  They open another line. We scoot ahead.  I  think Wally is going to make it.  Not us. The line we are in closes in front of us.  WHAT!!   At least the cattle don't know what lies ahead like we do!!  We squeeze into an adjoining line and get through. 10 minutes to spare.  I look at the Departures.   We cannot walk to the next terminal and get there before the plane doors are closed.  So close.  This is almost worst.  If I had not changed lines way back at immigration??  Maybe.  

I see an airport terminal electric passenger transporter.  I ask if they can take us to the gate.  Maybe???   He says yes.  A mother and two kids going to L.A. get on too.  Wait.  This is my ride!!   The driver says he just dropped two folks off for the Cleveland flight--Wally and Norma.  They made it!!!    He thinks we can get there in time too.  The folks going to L.A. are doomed.  Their plane left 5 minutes ago.  They seem to think it is not too late, so they stay on.  The cart races through the Houston corridors and terminals.  Get out of our way!!    He reassures us.  Cleveland is doable .  We get to the gate.  I see Wally and Norma. They are boarding.  We can board too!   But where are the others?????

We race onto the plane.  We stow our carry-ons. Settle in and buckle-up.  Then I take a breath.  I'm not sure if I have been breathing this whole time, but at last I can take a slow, exhausted breath--WE MADE IT !!