Apex Predators

Orca Skull Cast

With teeth like these it is easy to see why the orca is the apex predator of the sea. Even Great White sharks run in fear from Killer whales, because the whales like to feed on them. They eat the shark’s liver and only the liver, for its iron.

I’ve seen orcas in the wild. It was in Puget Sound. Carl and I were taking a late ferry across to the Olympic Peninsula. Anne and Jay had already taken the four kids across and we were going to join them for a weekend whale watching expedition. Two orcas crossed in front of the ferry. Those were the only whales that we saw. The weather on the Pacific side of the Olympic was so rough that even though we did go out in a boat, it was impossible to see any whales.

While sharks may enjoy a fearsome, but noble apex predator, in the orca, we humans are not so lucky.  According to Timothy Winegard’s NY Times article, “The Mosquitoes Are Coming for Us“, our apex predator is the mosquito: 

She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated mandible cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this straw she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents that blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.

Researchers think that mosquitoes may have killed half of the 108 billion people who have ever lived, but they don’t do this alone. They are assisted by the likes of malaria, Zika, West Nile, dengue and yellow fever. It doesn’t help that Type O blood, my type, is their preferred menu item. When I used to drink a lot of Coke, Anne always said that the bugs like me more, because my blood is so sweet. It is, but not because of any soda that I might have drunk.

People have been trying to deal with this scourge forever. We tried poisoning them with DDT, but then they just mutated a resistance. Florida’s Disney World is a more enlightened success story. Even though it was built in a central Florida swamp, it is pretty mosquito free. This is accomplished not with chemicals, but by turning all of the once stagnate swamp water into flowing water. Mosquitoes won’t breed in moving water. Disney World is big enough to create its own ecosystem, but most of humanity can’t afford this solution or its park prices.

The advent of modern genetic technology, in the form of Crispr offers us the opportunity to up our game. Throughout history our battle against the mosquito had been a onesided disaster. Using Crispr scientists have already created sterile mosquitoes. Maybe Bill Gates and a few more of his billionaire colleagues can chip in enough money to make enough of these drones to put a dent in the 100 trillion world mosquito population? Until then, keep slapping.

Nehalem Bay State Park

Nehalem Bay State Park

We may complain here at the cabin that the beach is too narrow, what with record high lake levels, but there are some things to be said for a narrow beach. At Nehalem Bay the beach was so wide that it was a major expedition to march to the sea. If Anne looks a wee bit cold that’s because she is at least standing on wet sand, if not in actual water. Water that has been chilled by the Arctic’s Humboldt current, which is cold enough to make even Lake Superior water feel warm by comparison. Still, it didn’t stop the kids from swimming there. It was actually kind of a warm day, at least of the Oregon coast.

I’m really reveling in the company of Jay and Carl and will miss them when their visitation is over. Anne broke out the Redwoods puzzle that she bought out west and the three of them have been pouring over it ever since. She is saving the Thomas Kinkade puzzle for Dan’s visit. After working on it just last night, I think that they will finish the Redwoods puzzle today. The girls have a book club meeting today, The Rosie Project. I participated in last year’s meeting, but felt too much like the fox in the henhouse, to want to do it again.

That book was Perfect Match, a novel about pedophile priests. I kind of brought the discussion to a standstill when I related my real life experience as a juror on a statutory rape case. I had everyone’s rap attention right up to the point that I told them that we had acquitted. That decision was so contrary to the theme of the book, but it was also reached just six months before Ferguson. The only black people in the courtroom were the defendant and his accuser. We voted twelve to nothing to acquit. The prosecutor was so pissed with us. The Saint Louis County judicial system was just that corrupt. Last year, we finally voted out McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney and elected Wesley Bell, a Ferguson activist. Bell cleaned house, so I expect that that case’s prosecutor is now gone. 

Tahquamenon Riverboat Tour

As a much needed getaway from elder care, we drove west to Soo Junction and indulged ourselves in a totally touristy train and riverboat tour to Tahquamenon Falls, courtesy of Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours. I’ve been vacationing up here for decades and have done all of the usual tourist stuff around here and Anne has been coming even longer, but somehow this attraction has eluded us. Yesterday, after a forty minute drive, we arrived at the parking lot. Before we got there though, we stopped first at Sugar Daddy, the new Brimley bakery, for a little something and at a popup roadside craft stand, at the corner of M-28 and M-123 that was selling birch-bark baskets. Anne bought a nice one for me.

The total tour runs 6 ½ hours and travels through the wilderness swamps and forests around Tahquamenon. It begins with a 35 minute narrow gauge train ride, along the “longest 24″ gauge railroad in the country” (5 ½ miles). Called the Toonerville Trolley, this train was first built for logging in 1910. In 1927 in converted from hauling logs in the winter to hauling tourists in the summer. We sat in the third car, the “party car” that was comprised almost exclusively of people from Ann Arbor. It was sunny, warm, bug free and an enjoyable ride.

The train ride is followed by a 2 hour, 21 mile, riverboat cruise. The Hiawatha offers two decks, with enclosed and open seating, food service and restrooms. If you save some room until the last hour of the return trip, hotdogs are a dollar. This boat is the latest in a sequence of tour boats that have been plying the river. In the dead of winter, water trucks sprayed water for a month, making an ice road 18″ thick. The boat was hauled to the river in five sections by truck and welded together on the frozen river. When spring came, it launched itself.

During the cruise, the captain provided excellent narration on the area’s logging history, Native American history and Michigan’s plant and animal life. After reaching the rapids above the falls, he docked the riverboat for a little over an hour, allowing for a 1¼ mile roundtrip nature hike to a private viewing area for the upper falls. The normal view from across the river is better, but this one was different and different is usually good just for being so. After the stopover, the riverboat and train retraced their routes back to Soo Junction.

It rained on the return boat trip and after a couple of nearby lighting strikes and the captain’s admonition, the outside decks were cleared. It turned cool and we were missing our raincoats that we had left in the car, so we snuggled, just to keep warm, don’t you know. It was still a pleasant ride. The return train trip was not so nice. We both got massacred by mosquitoes. On the way out, we were heading northwest into a northwest wind, giving us a combined air speed of between 10-20 MPH. So, no bugs, but on the way back, we were heading the opposite direction and what with the wind still out of the northwest, the motion of the train was effectively cancelled by the wind. We used Off!, but almost every spot that we had missed with it got bitten.

Still, the expedition was a lot of fun. We saw Sandhill cranes, a Golden and Bald eagle and “Harry” the woodchuck, but no wolves, bear or moose. Maybe next time? We dined at Pickles, which on a Saturday night was slammed. For having spent almost all day sitting, we were both very tired and Bubs had to go to bed early, because no one else was still going to be up much longer.