Gut Wrenching

A few nights ago while watching The Sapphires, a movie Rotten Tomatoes describes as “predictable and sentimental” with “an irresistible feel-good vibe, winning music and charming performances to spare” I had, perhaps for the first time in my life, one of those moments commonly described as a “flashback.”

When I first came back from Vietnam I stereotypically ducked, or at least flinched, when confronted by a loud noise and had moments when I became enraged over events that would have little or no effect years later. I avoided, and still tend to avoid, violent movies, particularly those depicting Vietnam. I avoided increasingly popular American-Vietnamese restaurants not wanting to be exposed to refugees speaking Vietnamese.

I thought I had long ago come to terms with those experiences. After all, that was nearly fifty years ago. Recently I’ve even seen movies about the war and, perhaps with the exception of Apocalypse Now, they don’t particularly bother me any more. I can go comfortably go to a Vietnamese restaurant, and might go even more if I didn’t prefer Thai cuisine. I’ve almost reconciled myself to the sound of Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead at night, though that’s still a tough sell. In other words, I’d convinced myself that all those feelings are finally gone.

Perhaps that it was precisely why it was so disturbing when I reacted strongly to a scene in this movie. Thinking back, the moment when I freaked was probably set up by an earlier scene when I heard a garbled radio transmission. There were few things scarier in Vietnam than poor radio communication, particularly jammed radio transmissions, when bullets are flying all around you and it’s hard to tell allies from enemies in the darkness of night. If your radios were jammed, you knew you were on your own, no matter what happened.

The scene that really disturbed me, though, was one as The Sapphires were just about to go on stage and a single flare burst over their heads and began to drift slowly down. Thankfully I wasn’t in a theater when I said out loud “Duck”!! Or perhaps it was “Fuck.” In retrospect, either would have served. My body knew instantly what was about to follow; it was all I could do not to drop to the floor.

An enemy flare was a sure sign of an attack; no one drops a flare on your position unless an attack is imminent — and mortar or artillery rounds are almost sure to follow. To make matters worse, there’s something particularly eerie about the light from a flare, knowing that the enemy out there in the dark can see you but your blinded by the bright lights.

The rush of adrenaline I felt when that flare went off knotted my stomach. I couldn’t sit still and had to walk to the kitchen, fiddle around, and walk through another room before I could return to the movie. Hours later I could still feel the adrenaline rush, nervous energy with nowhere to go. The adrenaline eventually went away, but days later I’m still amazed by how strong my reaction was.

We like to think we are in control of our emotions and reactions, that our brain is capable of deciding what’s dangerous and what’s not. At least I do. Incidents like this suggest otherwise. Some events in our life last forever, embedded somewhere in the gut, not in the brain. You feel them, not think them. They lie in the dark recesses of your body, like land mines waiting to be triggered by some passing incident — well beyond any rational control.

Acorn Woodpeckers

If I lived in Northern California I’d probably have a hard drive full of Acorn Woodpeckers and not a hard drive full of Great Blue Heron or Belted Kingfisher. I only discovered them a few years ago and even more recently at Lake Ralphine.

Originally I was attracted to them because of their striking features, the bright red cap, the white face and the distinctive beak.

 Acorn Woodpecker

They didn’t look like any other woodpecker I’ve ever seen.

Later, though, I was attracted to their behavior. They often seem curious about that weird guy with the camera. Even if they fly off at first, they will often return shortly and look intently at me.

Acorn Woodpecker

Their behavior is intriguing, too. You can find trees with hundreds of acorns stored in tiny holes, but they also seem to be constantly foraging for food. states that “Besides nuts and insects, Acorn Woodpeckers also eat fruit, sap, oak catkins, and flower nectar, along with occasional grass seeds, lizards, and even eggs of their own species.”

Acorn Woodpecker

Of course, the more you photograph any bird the more you begin to notice about them. In these recent closeups I was particularly intrigued by their claws, particularly the size in relationship to the rest of their body.

Acorn Woodpecker

It doesn’t hurt that it’s impossible to miss these woodpeckers when they are around because they live in large families, another unusual trait.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

As I noted in my previous entry, I was really looking forward to photographing at the Butterfly Exhibit and I carried the best lens for shooting butterflies close up, my 100 mm macro lens. If I’d known that I was going to the zoo I would have taken an entirely different set of lenses, either my 70-200 mm lens, my 400 mm lens, or both.

I was most upset by the fact that I had promised Lael a trip to the butterfly garden and had to disappoint her, but as she pointed out as we walked around the zoo, “Who needs butterflies when the zoo has so many birds.” She knows her grandpa well.

This Spur-winged Lapwing caught my attention in the very first exhibit.
It seemed remarkably familiar, but entirely new, all at the same time, and I couldn’t quite figure out why until I read it was a cousin of our Killdeer, a personal favorite.

Spur-winged Lapwing

The 100 mm lens was entirely incapable of capturing a decent shot of an ostrich in the distance, but it’s hard not to be impressed by a bird this big,


even when you’ve seen it many times.

I don’t remember ever seeing this red-headed jungle bird ever before, though, but I was impressed by the unique head and struggled to get a good shot through the glass panes.

unknown bird with red head

On the other hand, this turquoise-colored bird was in a large open area, but it was so dark and the bird was so camera-shy that it was a real struggle to get a decent shot.

unknown turquoise-colored bird

The real “aha” moment of the day was when I noticed these strange birds mixed in with the flamingoes.

Young Flamingo

The curator pointed out that young flamingoes lack the brilliant pinks of the adults, even when they’ve been fed on the same shrimp that causes the pink coloration in the adults. I’ve never seen a flamingo that wasn’t pink.

Of course, this is only a small number of the birds to be found in Woodland Park Zoo. I’m continually surprised by the large numbers of birds to be found at most zoos today. I certainly don’t remember seeing nearly as many birds at the zoo when I was a child. I wonder if that’s because they actually had less birds, or whether I simply didn’t notice them because I was more interested in lions, and tigers, and bears?

Who Needs Butterflies?

Tuesday was one of those rare days when Dawn and Rich have to work but their kids didn’t have school. Gavin had plans with friends, so I asked Lael if she wanted to visit the Butterfly Exhibit in Seattle. Unfortunately, when we got there we discovered that the Science Center is closed on Tuesdays. Luckily the weather was good enough (meaning it wasn’t raining or freezing) that we could go to the zoo instead.

I don’t think Lael was nearly as disappointed as I was at not being able to see the butterflies. Since the Woodland Park Zoo is quite different from the Tacoma Zoo, we ended up having a fun day. It was too foggy for long shots, but relative closeups like this shot of a Patas Monkey running turned out better than I thought they would.

Patas Monkey

In fact, I’m sure these are two are the best shots I’ve ever managed of these monkeys.

Patas Monkey

Unfortunately, the orangutans were not nearly as cooperative, though it was fun to watch this male peek out from under his “blankee” to look at us while still remaining hidden from sight.

Orangutan Hiding

We both enjoyed a “visitor” who was pulling bright-colored objects out of her purse to show the female orangutan and explained to us that several different people visited the exhibit regularly to enrich the orangutan’s experiences. Interestingly, she said the female became agitated when a regular visitor would fail to show up for a while.

It was far too dark in the corner to get a decent shot of the two “conversing,” though, so I had to settle for this shot of the sculpture just outside the exhibit.

Orangutan Sculpture

It’s hard to miss the Siamang apes when they’e howling, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen them on the ground.


I took a lot more pictures of birds than I did monkeys or apes, but Lael was pretty clear that her favorite part of the zoo was the apes.

Lael and friends

She didn’t complain when we left the zoo and went to Spud’s for fish and chips, either. Of course, I seldom go to Seattle without stopping at Spud’s, a favorite hangout when I was in high school, and a favorite of my parents’ since 1937.