Ruby Throated Female

Return of Hummingbirds and schadenfreude

“Whoa – what was that”? It is late February early March in Texas. Something just whistled past me as I was gardening. This UFO was small, the size of a big bumblebee or a big moth. No way I could identify it, such was the speed. I rewound the memory spool, and yes there was some sound too. Could it be? I had never in my life seen hummingbirds, but knew they existed in the Americas. My interest was piqued and I did some googling. Yes – it very well could be a hummingbird. I discovered that they will drink a sugar solution if available to them. Now next step was to procure a feeder which I did. The mix is one part sugar dissolved in three parts water. Then you just hang the feeder in a place where the birds can easily access it and feel secure (think like a bird eh?). Now the wait and after a little while I was rewarded when this exquisite creature came to the feeder.

Ruby Throated Female

Ruby Throated Female

 

I was so overjoyed by seeing this bird for the first time that I felt like a little kid. (Those of us who are not grownups by fifty do not have to.)  I must put a disclaimer here. These birds move so fast that it is very hard to get sharp pictures and some of mine could be better. However I use them since they are mine, and if you are interested, go to the net and enjoy their colossal beauty in professional photos.

https://www.google.com/search?q=hummingbird+facts&client=safari&rls=en&biw=1313&bih=1131&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiv1PD8xa7SAhWDRiYKHblbD_cQ_AUICigD

Ruby Throated male on his property

Ruby Throated male on his property

Why do I find them so special? First off they are the smallest birds there are, from 3-5 grams. They can hover in the air, go up and down, sideways and even back. They can cross the Gulf Of Mexico in a 20 hour flight, losing half their body weight enroute. It is very tedious to list all their factoids, so I put a facts website here. What really sets them apart is their rapid metabolism. Heart rate per minute is 500 bpm at rest and 1200 on the wing! I guess it could be called delirium cordis?

http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/facts.php

They eat insects for protein, and then they hunt for flowers to drink their nectar, which supplies their energy. The plants need pollinators and will provide just enough nectar to keep them flying, doing their job. I already have mentioned my Bottlebrush in a previous post and how the Monarchs love that plant. The butterflies like their nectar a bit fermented explaining their erratic flight! The Hummers just love the Bottlebrush too, and the nectar it provides. Late summer there are probably up to a hundred of these birds in my trees.

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottle Brush

They are solitary birds and the males are surprisingly aggressive and territorial. When a male has located the feeder, it is his property, and magnificent aerial battles are fought over the right to have a sip. Of course a male will allow a female to drink from his feeder. I suspect the motivations  are somewhat less than pure, but what the heck, I understand. If the number of males gets to be too much to defend against, they change strategy and all are friends and drink the sugar solution together.

Ruby Throated males in aerial battle

Ruby Throated males in aerial battle

 

In Iceland the migratory birds are the harbingers of spring. Here I have chosen the hummingbird for that task.

It is with perverse joy I write this since today in Iceland there is 2-3´of snow and here there is this glorious spring. It only proves the article of Swedish faith that the only real lasting joy in this world is schadenfreude.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummingbird

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schadenfreude

Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena – Colombia

Cartagena is a walled city in Colombia on the Caribbean coast. It is renowned for its well preserved architecture. This post is going to be just pictures all taken by Drifa Freysdottir. There is nothing to add, the pictures say it all.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartagena,_Colombia

 

The choice, the sun and Icelandic crepes

After graduating Med School I worked for six months as a general practitioner during the coming winter. At that time it was a requirement for obtaining a license as a doctor before you could embark on your chosen speciality. I took a post in a small village in the countryside where I was the sole doctor. It was remote from Reykjavik. The villages around Iceland are mostly coastal with fishing interests and service to what is left of the farming community around. The movement of people from the country to the towns and villages had already depleted areas that once were thriving communities. Where I was posted the fjords are deep and the mountains are layered up to a flat tabletop. The mountain sides are steep and they will block the sun if the village is so located. These fjords are ringed by mountains where the foothills run into the sea with limited lowland. Some places the mountains cascade into the sea with vertical cliffs and the surf pounding the walls. The ocean is a part of the allure sometimes flat and other times raging and cold it is. These fjords are barren devoid of trees, mostly stones and tundra but exceptionally beautiful even majestic.

The preceding summer I worked as an intern in one of the hospitals where I got to know a young patient in her twenties. She was battling a cancer. She was from the rural area where I became posted and her only wish was to live in there. South of the mountains in the next fjord she lived with her husband on a farm in a valley where there were no other inhabitants. Mountains both sides and then a bay with yes you guessed it more mountains. There were no lights from any other settlements to be seen from where she lived.  When the snow started in the fall it became impossible to to get there driving. There was a an airstrip at villages north and south of her but if you can not get there it is useless. The lady had a relapsing condition and after each treatment and actually from the first treatment she absolutely refused to be in Reykjavik extended periods for follow up and such. She could not stand the city and would go back to her farm immediately after the chemo. She had had a number of relapses and then recovered. This lady was very intelligent and understood well her predicament. However living on her farm was the only thing she would accept despite the consequences.

In these fjords the mountains are so high they will block off the winter sun that only manages to get up over the horizon some few degrees in the wintertime. It takes for ever for the sun to rise and it sets slowly. Some villages do not get any direct sun at all for a while. You can see the mountain tops across the fjord illuminated and you track when the rays are creeping lower as the sun rises after the winter solstice.  So winter at these latitudes is prolonged periods of dusk little bit of sun but mostly pitch dark. To not feel the sun on your skin for an extended period of time is depressing and you long for the caress of the sun again. The feeling of the sun on your skin after this period of deprivation is indescribable even wonderful. The day will come that the sun manages to get over the mountains blocking it and shine on our village and that day is understandably a very special day. This day we have the sólarkaffi (sun coffee). We bake what is locally called pönnukökur (pancakes) but the rest of the world calls crepes (we think everyone else has it wrong). We do not care so pönnukökur (or pönnsur a nickname) it is. We bake them on flat round crepe pans that must not ever be washed and are not used for anything else. These pans become heirlooms. My sisters wondered what became of momma’s pan but I know. There are many recipes and I for instance put a little bit of coffee in the batter to get a better color, I actually prefer instant coffee if it is to be had. We like them thin and roll them up warm with sugar brown or white or we we put whipped cream and fruit jam on top and fold them twice so they look like a padded quarter circle. This is a great tradition as we indulge in crepes and the revitalizing rays of the sun. This is the best celebration I have experienced in my life.

The winter I was working there I took some blood samples which were sent to follow up on her condition. The winter was uneventful and I returned to the City and soldiered on. Next year in the fall I learned that the lady was getting weaker again. She understood the situation and as she was snowed in the Coast Guard was summoned to help out. Before that she in her weakened state hiked up the mountain and sat down on a stone and awaited the return of the sun. When the sun reached her she sat there and soaked it up and then hiked back to the farm. Pönnukökur  were baked and she enjoyed her sólarkaffi (sun coffee). Now she was ready and the Coast Guard got her out of the isolation and she had to return to the hospital. She did not make it back alive. I am certain that her spirit, if there is such a thing, is there in these barren isolated majestic valleys. The memory of her certainly is.

That damn fireplace is smoking again irritating my eyes so I have to fix that.

Pictures Drifa Freysdottir

 

 

Hofn i Hornafirdi

My friend, the river and a slab of stone

Now that I am retired from surgery memories come floating into my head. Incidents that I had forgotten big and small and good and bad. I have been ruminating on one of my patients who was quite an inspiration to me (we will call him E). If the rebirth theory and Nirvana holds true he was close to attaining that state, old soul and all that. It so happened that when I dealt with patients that some of them became my friends. It was understandably those with serious diagnoses. They and their families need so much more from you than simple cases solved quickly. The simple cases mainly need technical excellence and that is that. In some ways I was rationing my “love” because I think my “love” is finite. I know that some teach that the more you give the more you can give but I don´t think so. I have seen so many health professional who have become callous and burnt out with no “love” left to give.

Back to my friend and our journey together. In some ways you might say that I have lived through many lives with my patients especially their last years. We sat together drinking coffee and telling each other stories. When my friend was a boy on a farm in South East Iceland one of our national bards Thorbergur was visiting as he was born in that area. Thorbergur was notorious for his angst of ghosts and everybody knew that even little boys.

“So little E are there any ghosts here on this farm” Thorbergur asks? “There are some in the barn and stables but that is nothing compared to the farmhouse. It is very bad here” E answers.  “Now that is some news. Where are they most aggressive” Thorbergur asks? “Well if you insist it will be in guest room where you will be sleeping.” And so it went little E worked himself up telling ghost stories real and imagined. He was so focused that he started to believe them himself. Thorbergur believed any and all ghost stories. When it became time to go to bed E told me that Thorbergur had said to him. “Little E it is best that you sleep with me tonight.”

He told his stories quietly with a soft smile and immense presence. He was a tall man powerfully built and with the largest pair of hands I ever have seen. He radiated kindness but he was firm all the same. Previously the nightlife in Reykjavik had become rowdier and wilder. In one incident the bad boys had spilt into the ER and were partying. Knocking over medicinal cabinets and what not. Young Dr. H (one of my closest friends) was dusted a bit and the attending orthopedic surgeon Dr. H* who is built like a classical orthopedic surgeon (a tank) and behaves like one. Not the kind kumbaya type you meet today. He sustained rib fractures so good times were had all around.  The countermeasures were to have an officer there during the weekends. Officer E was one of the first to take that shift and when he was there all was calm. The bad boys came and he just met them and genially said “How are you boys” smiled and placed his hand on someone´s shoulder and that was enough. You can radiate power in different ways.

I had to do a rather big abdominal operation on him one early spring and he recovered from that eventually. I meet him the next fall. “What have you been up to my friend?” “Well I was not sure if I was alive after all I have been through” he said. “You look alive to me.” “I know and I feel alive now after my experiment.” “Now what did you do” I asked him? “Well as I was in doubt on my vitality I returned to my birthplace. You know there is this glacial river there Jokulsa i Loni?”  “I know” I answered “I have seen that river and passed it on the bridge several times.” He says “I know a ford in that river from my youth.” “And” I ask? He goes on and “I picked up a big slab of stone to weigh me down.” Now I became worried “You idiot you could rupture the wound or some such doctor worries.” His answer was “But I needed to know if I was alive.” A verbal touchdown?

“Then I proceeded to the ford on the river and made it over to the other bank. The current was fast and cold but the stone kept me down but I became pretty tired though.” And goes on “Now I realized the car was on the opposite site so I had to wade it again.” I am now flabbergasted. He continuous “Then I knew I was alive.” Just like that calmly half smiling and with this gentle and loving presence that I cannot fully describe.

Now as fate would have it his disease returned and it slowly led him to his demise. “How are you E what is going on now?” On one of his last visits to the outpatient clinic. “Well I am so happy now.” “What is going on” I ask. “My disease and the way things are going have brought my family together.” There had been some discord and strife that I knew about in his life (discord and strife, isn´t that just generally life eh?) “Now that I am dying we have solved some of our problems and we are united again. I am very grateful for that.”

I loved this man and will always be grateful that I got to know him.

As I write this I think that the smoke from the fireplace has gotten to my eyes and I need to go fix that.

*Dr. H is without question my favorite orthopedic surgeon. Both Drs. H are fly fishermen and there is a river there somewhere as this is a fishing blog.

Pictures Drifa Freysdottir

Laxa in Adaldal

The billionaire´s compliment

“Are you a fly fisherman”? “It is a disease” I retorted. “I will pick you up tomorrow,” he said. “Sure” I answered – “what river are we fishing”? “It is the river Mine” he answers and we were practically engaged.

I had in my lapel a small brown trout pin made of tin. Nothing fancy but a statement all the same. “Who is this guy?” I asked after he had disappeared. I was visiting with a leading surgical instruments maker in the New England area and being chaperoned around by a sales rep. I noticed that everyone around us had gotten quiet and very respectful. The rep looked at me and said, “this is Mr. X and he owns this place”.

So next morning a car is in front of my hotel to pick me up. I have gone fishing in all kinds of vehicles but never before or since have I gone in a stretch limo. SUVs small and large even Skodas but never a limo. I say that is just a great way to travel. We drive out into the countryside for a bit and come to a great estate that is walled in. When inside it was just a beautiful land with some bass ponds here and there and a hill. The river Mine was so constructed that water was pumped to the top of the hill and then it came flowing down through pools and meandering curves when it was being fished otherwise it was just a trickle. Trees and brushes were on the banks and the pools were so constructed that you could cast in the correct direction and the back cast was unobstructed. It was a like a Japanese garden – serene and peaceful. Of course the fishing was fabulous – rainbows and browns galore.

Later he came to Iceland on his private jet and I served as his ghillie salmon fishing. Now salmon fishing can both be crushingly boring and fabulously exciting. The way it works in Iceland is that you buy a fishing permit for one rod for 3 days for instance. Each river has only a certain number of rods each day that are allowed to fish it depending on the annual catch. Some rivers have just 2 rods per day other have more also depending also on the length of the river.  The salmon are a migratory fish and if they are “late” or you are “early” it is boring I tell you. If the salmon are running up the river and you are there it is magical but then there is the weather.

Iceland is in the subarctic zone. The Arctic Circle is just north of Iceland and traverses Grimsey (small island off the coast of Iceland). Any day of the year at those latitudes can bring a blizzard or a howling northerly or both.  We do have a month called July in Iceland but it is a far cry from an USA July. So of course we have 3 days of howling north wind at our river when we were supposed to be fishing, with temperature around 40F. Mr. X was not expecting this weather and was a bit underdressed for it. All the same we were flogging the river and shivering. Now in Iceland we have a curious custom when we get cold. We slap our palms on our torsos for a bit and presto we get warmer. This custom was totally alien to the billionaire so I gave him a good hiding with my palms. He suddenly got furious but then suddenly he smiled and said “You are the only one who has beaten me in a long while – and I liked it”! – When fishing a considerable time is spent on the banks just shooting the breeze and having a little dram of whiskey every now and then. I was on a roll telling stories (I can b.s. with the best of them) and explaining the geology and what not when he wrapped up the pause by saying “Jonas – you are full of useless information”.

I would say that this is the best backhanded compliment I have ever gotten.

Pictures Drifa Freysdottir

 

 

 

 

Monarch

Monarchs

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

The Monarchs are getting ready to haul off to Mexico. It is that season. These creatures are worthy of our respect and admiration. This one fueling up on nectar from my Bottlebrush is the forth generation of this year. This Monarch is destined to fly from the Florida Panhandle to Mexico for the winter. I am not any authority on Butterflies but witnessing this spectacle when they cover my Bottlebrush trees has led me to Google a bit. If you would witness the “gathering” on my Bottlebrush trees and not be moved you are probably dead. I simple must share this with my friends.

 

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

 

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

It is impossible for me to get a picture that conveys the sheer number on my trees. These two above is just to give an idea of the density of the Monarchs. You will have to believe me when I tell you that there are thousands working and drinking the nectar that fuels them.

The forth generation of Monarchs will reach Mexico for the winter. I have not witnessed the winter location but pictures on the web are telling.

http://fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml

There are some that will spend the winter in south Florida and they migrate down the peninsula in the fall. Then there are others that take the coast route to Mexico and pass through here in the Panhandle. These Monarchs are the ones that roam east of the Appalachians. Monarchs west of the Sierras can overwinter in San Joaquin Valley. Those in between migrate to Mexico (or this is how I have understood it). If I am getting it wrong please post a reply to me so I can correct this blog.

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottle Brush

Next spring this Monarch will mate and the first generation Monarch is on its way. They lay their eggs on so called Milkweed plants solely. From the eggs we get the caterpillars. They will munch on Milkweed plants happily and from the latex derive the Cardenolides (type of steroid that is cardio toxic) that they sequester. The caterpillars will pupate and enter into the chrysalis stage. Of course we humans are destroying Milkweed habitat (along with much else) and if you love these butterflies plant Milkweed plants in your garden and be aware of this connection and educate people around you. If Milkweed disappears so do these beauties

Monarch Chrysalis

The Monarch Chrysalis is attached to a Round-Up plastic container! They are beautiful but not smart.

 

Now the great miracle of metamorphosis occurs and the butterfly emerges from the Chrysalis. And – no the shower that fishermen take after a days work is not comparable albeit a small miracle.

This first generation Monarchs will fly north. There will be the second and the third generation as they fly and actually reach Canada. These generations all are completely reliant on Milkweed plants. The Caterpillars will only chomp on those.

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

The fourth generation is responsible for getting back to the winter-grounds and they do not need any Milkweed until after mating next spring. This generation must get nectar for the flight. The Bottlebrush trees are a great attractor and the Hummingbirds also love them but most of the Hummers are gone south by now.

These colors of the Monarchs are there for a reason. This is called true advertising. “I am black and orange and you eat me at your peril” – they are poisonous because of the Cardenolides. In my garden I also find the Gulf Fritillary.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary in flight

And we notice right away that they are sporting the same colors. However they are not poisonous. This ploy they use and is called false advertising. They are sheep in wolves garb. I prefer sheep in sheep´s clothes.

https://vimeo.com/190793438

Salmon with Francis

The Crafty Daughter

Parliamentary elections were around the corner in Iceland (Year 1990). One of our heavyweight politicians had recently chanced his constituency. He had represented one of the rural districts and had moved to a city constituency in order to gain more votes and influence and of course there were heated discussions on this because that is what we do in Iceland. We never discuss what needs to be discussed and decided but ruminate on trivia ad nauseam. (For instance when AIDS came on the scene there we did not talk about condoms until we had decided what we should call this new disease in Icelandic and that took some time). I did not particularly agree with his party´s politics.

I was performing some abdominal operation. I do not remember what I was doing but I rather suspect I was a little bit like the Swedish Chef of Muppets fame, organs flying etc. Now I am bashing this politician because that is what we do during operations and to my surprise a young Medical Student who had just started and was assisting me chimes in and just rips the poor guy to shreds. Very eloquently and expertly done. She just upstaged me completely and so I just had to ask, “do you know this guy”? Sure she said, “He is my father”. I have never been shafted with more skill and finesse.

The reason I share with you this story is that I later learned that he was a very good fly slinger and salmon fisherman (I know – thin but I have to come up with a blog?). As the years passed he became one of our best-liked politicians and always tried to find common ground and solve problems. His speeches were not hyperbole and dogma rather common sense and moderation. Once during an interview he was reminded that recently he held the opposite view to which he retorted “And I really meant it when I said it”. Now we miss politicians of that type.

Grjonagrautur

Grjonagrautur – this picture only makes sense to Icelanders