The Spider and the Fly

On a peaceful, Sunday afternoon, I sat reading reading in the garden, but became distracted by an intense buzzing behind me. Initially, I tried to ignore it, but the sound became more and more urgent.

Tearing my attention away from my book, I looked up. There was a fly caught in a spider’s web. The spider had wrapped arms around the fly who was struggling to get away. As I watched, the spider slowly subdued the fly, which was equal to her size, and then began to encircle the fly in its webbing.

Next thing I knew, the spider had suspended the fly on the web and then built what I suppose was the equivalent of a ladder, strengthening her path in a way that would enable her to carry the fly to a less exposed place to feast on later. More quickly than I could have imagined, the spider whisked the fly across the web and into the overhang of the jasmine. She then hid herself in the nearby leaves, presumably awaiting the next bug to fall prey to her web.

Though I certainly knew how a spider hunted, I will confess I had never witnessed it with my own eyes. The speed and ease with which this spider took down this fly both impressed and sickened me. It makes me realize how many things I know, but have yet to understand.

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Enough with the Plastic

The most disturbing part of our time in Morocco has been seeing the proliferation of trash littered everywhere. In city streets, country roads and even in the remotest parts of the Sahara. I keep wondering whether any groups organize “clean up days” the way we do at local beaches and such. If so, they may get added to my favorite charity list.

As we sat on the train racing from Marrakech to Casablanca, I pulled open my curtain to look out on open fields. As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight, I was saddened as I realize the landscape is dotted with plastic bags.

When we were in the Sahara, we stopped in a small palm grove for a picnic. We were disappointed that within a campfire site people had left their trash. Cans, bottles, etc. Even as we visited Erg Chegga, one of the remotest dunes in Morocco, our guide found (and thankfully picked up) a plastic bag.

In the states, particularly in California, we teach our kids the “leave no trace” ethic when in the wilderness — what we carry in, we carry out. We’re pretty obsessive about recycling (I have not seen a single recycling bin in Morocco). And more and more, we’ve stopped buying water in plastic bottles — drinking from the tap and even making our own sparkling water. That, of course, has not been possible in Morocco, but even in Europe it was hard to get plain old tap water in a restaurant (only one restaurant in France offered it).

Not sure whether it’s a sense of guilt over my own contribution to the problem, or worry about the impact of all plastic that I’m seeing everywhere, but it’s weighing on me. As we were packing up our tent and getting ready to leave the desert, I picked up two empty water bottles. I looked at Jeff and asked what we should do with them. He voiced what I had been feeling: “I’d like to take them all the way back home to make sure their recycled.”

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Sunrise on the Dunes

So, yesterday after arriving at our camp after the sandstorm, we hoped that the wind would die down enough to allow us to take a camel trek out to view the sunset. No such luck. There was enough wind and sand kicking up to obscure any view.

In fact, we learned over dinner that another guide had gotten lost in the sandstorm. Our guide and some others went out to try to locate them. We got a report this morning that they were finally able to locate them at about 3am. I can only imagine how panicked the tourists in the lost car were!

I know I’m grateful that we got safely settled into our camp, even if we didn’t get to see the sunset. fortunately, later in the evening, the sky cleared and we were treated to an amazingly starry sky. There were only six guests total at the camp and after the others (including Jeff) went to bed, I went out and did a little meditation and yoga under the stars. It was so quiet and peaceful — something I’ll always remember.

Then, this morning, to make up for our missing the sunset on the dunes, we were escorted by camel out to the dunes to watch an amazing sunrise. Pictures don’t do it justice, but it will give you a taste of what we saw.

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It’s a Small World (and Getting Smaller)

No, we haven’t added Disneyland to our trip.

Throughout our trip, it’s been hard to miss how much Western culture, particularly American commerce, has infiltrated life at every stop. In some locations, it’s been the prevalence of American brands — from Nike to McDonald’s. But even in this remote part of the world, it seems like no corner of the world is immune from the influences of other cultures.

Today, one moment in particular made me laugh to myself.

As we drove through a small Anti-Atlas village, our Bedouin guide pointed out the local cemetery. As he explained Muslim burial practices and the practice of praying for all buried in the cemetery (not just your loved ones) when you visit, I suddenly became distracted by the fact that he was doing this while driving a Toyota 4×4 and listening to the Gipsy Kings rendition of Hotel California.

It all came together as a strangely appropriate combination.

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Craving a Good Geology Lesson

We’ve been driving for the past three days through Morocco. We’ve seen bits of the Atlas Mountains, Anti-Atlas and Western Sahara. I’ve been struck at every turn by the geological similarities to the American southwest. At times, if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that we were in Southern Utah or even Nevada.

It’s a strange reminder of the fact that the continents were all squished together once. Makes me want to better understand how the plates separated and moved and what used to be joined where.

Then today, as we bumped our way through the Sahara Desert, our guide stopped in a field of black rocks. He pulled out a bottle of water and started pouring it on certain rocks. What appeared was unexpected and one of the highlights of the day: sea fossils. It was so unexpected in the middle of a desert, but again a reminder of the region’s geological past.

It’s beyond cool to be standing in the middle of a desert and be able to see and touch the fossil evidence that this part of the world was once under the ocean.

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Sandstorm in the Sahara

“It looks like we have made it through that sandstorm,” our guide informed us.

The sandstorm itself was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Having grown up in the Central Valley of California, we often had what were called “foggy day schedules.” A late start to the school day to let the tule fog burn off a bit. If you’ve ever driven in a tule fog, you know it hangs low to the ground and severely limits visibility. Best thing to do is to keep your eyes on the tail lights in front of you and hope that they don’t drive off the road.

I thought of that in the sandstorm. The visibility was near zero, but there were no tail lights to follow and in fact, there wasn’t even a road. We were about 90 minutes into off roading in the Sahara, headed toward our camp. We’d reached the region where Lake Iriki used to exist, before the river that fed it was dammed and diverted.

The wind picked up and started to swirl. It ran like water down our windows. I had no idea how our driver could see a thing, but he clearly knew what he was doing, and being naive about the dessert, I assumed this was a common occurrence, so I let the sound of the wind lull me into a light sleep.

Once the wind died down a bit and he let us know it looked like we’d seen the worst of it. I asked how often storms like that occurred and he shook his head and said that he hadn’t seen one like that since last April.

Now we are settled into our camp. It’s still pretty windy and we’re waiting to see whether the wind will die down enough to allow us to go out on a camel ride without getting completely barraged with sand.

Until then, Jeff’s gone in for a nap and I’m hiding away from the wind in the dining tent drinking tea (officially drinking “tea in the Sahara”) with my new companion, a cute little tabby cat.

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A Rainy Day in the French Alps

Yesterday, we flew into Geneva and were met by my parents to kick off a full week with them in the lovely French town of Chamonix. After a nice lunch overlooking Lac Léman, we started up the mountain. About halfway up, it started raining and it’s been raining ever since.

Truth be told, the rain is just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been struggling with a cold the last couple of days and it was nice to slow down and spend the day resting. We went into town for lunch and got to explore the town a bit. And every once in awhile, we’d be able to see bits of the mountains around us.

I’m told that when it does clear, we’ll have a perfect view of Mont Blanc from the little chalet we’re calling home this week. For now, the most I’ve seen is Glacier des Bossons, which I think is pretty impressive, but my dad tells me is nothing to write about in comparison to what I’ll see when the sun comes out.

Until then, I just plan to enjoy the time with my parents and take advantage of the time to read.

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