Thursday, July 26, 2007

Joke of the Day

A mother and her teenage daughter came to the doctor's office. The mother asked the doctor to examine her daughter. "She's been having some strange symptoms and I'm worried about her," said the mother. The doctor examined the daughter carefully.

Then he announced, "Madam, I believe your daughter is pregnant." The mother gasped. "That's nonsense!" she said. "Why, my little girl has nothing whatsoever to do with men." She turned to the girl. "You don't, do you dear?" "No mommy," said the girl.

"Why you know that I have never so much as kissed a boy!" The doctor looked from mother to daughter, and back again. Then, silently he stood up and walked to the window. He stared out. He continued staring until the mother felt compelled to ask, "Doctor, is there something wrong out there?" "No, Madam," said the doctor. "It's just that the last time anything like this happened, a star appeared in the East and I was looking to see if another one was goint to show up."

World's first commercial solar plant sees the light

World's first commercial solar plant sees the light (Photo)

In the arid Spanish countryside, PS10, a dazzling array of 624 1,292-square-foot mirrors, directs sunlight to a receiver atop a 35-story tower. There the blast of tight boils water into steam that generates 11 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 6,000 homes. The first commercial-scale power plant of its kind, PS10 came online in March. PS10-type technologies are less expensive to manufacture than photovoltaics, but they work only in very sunny areas. Abengoa, the company that built PS10, has begun a sister project nearby that wilt produce 20 megawatts of electricity. These, together with other planned solar projects at this site, will soon generate 300 megawatts, enough electricity to power 180,000 homes, equivalent to the neighboring city of Seville.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

One Soda A Day May Boost Risk For Heart Disease

Drinking just one soft drink a day -- whether diet or regular -- may boost your risk of getting heart disease, a new study shows .

That is because a soda habit increases the risk of developing a condition called metabolic syndrome, according to the new research, and that in turn boosts the chance of getting both heart disease and diabetes.

"Even one soda per day increases your risk of developing metabolic syndrome by about 50 percent," says Ramachandran Vasan, MD, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and the senior author of the study, published in the July 31 issue of the American Heart Association' s journal Circulation.

To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, three of five criteria must be met: a large waistline, elevated blood pressure, elevated fasting blood sugar, elevated fasting triglycerides, or reduced HDL or "good" cholesterol.

"This study adds to the wealth of scientific evidence that sugar-sweetened beverages increase the risk of metabolic syndrome," says Vasan. Already, he says, the rise in sugary drink consumption has been linked to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes among children and teens and to the development of high blood pressure in adults.

Soda-Heart Disease Link Questioned

The food and beverage industry takes issue with the finding.

Roger Clemens, DrPH, a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, calls the study findings "oversimplified. "
"There are many attributes associated with the development of metabolic syndrome," Clemens says. "Some of which are part of lifestyle choices, such as eating too many calories." Diet soda is a more appropriate choice than regular soda, he says.

"It's way too soon to say stop drinking diet soda," says Clemens, a professor of molecular toxicology at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, Los Angeles, who is familiar with the new research. "Diet soda, in moderation, can be part of a healthy lifestyle."

Study Details

Vasan and his colleagues evaluated about 3,500 men and women participating in the Framingham Offspring Study. The offspring study began in 1971, following the original Framingham Heart Study launched in 1948. The offspring study included 5,124 people in all.

The questions about soda and other dietary habits were asked at three different exam periods, from 1987 to 1991, 1991 to 1995, and 1995 to 1998. The average age of those who answered questions about their soft drink intake and other health habits was 53 during the three exam periods, Vasan says.

At the first exam period, those who drank one or more soft drinks daily had a 48 percent increased prevalence of having metabolic syndrome compared with those who drank less than one a day, the researchers found.

As the study progressed, drinking one or more sodas a day was linked with a 44 percent higher risk of participants developing metabolic syndrome, Vasan's team found, compared with drinking less than a soda a day.

The researchers looked at soda consumption and the person's risk of developing each of the five criteria of metabolic syndrome. "Other than elevated blood pressure, the risk of developing the other four increased from about 20 percent to 30 percent with one soda a day," Vasan says. They also found a trend toward an increased risk of developing high blood pressure with soda consumption, but it wasn't enough to be considered significant.

Explaining the Soda-Heart Disease Link

The link between soda consumption and heart disease risk factors "might be reflecting dietary behavior," Vasan says. "We know people who drink sodas have a greater intake of calories."

Soda drinkers, he says, are more likely to have a less healthy lifestyle pattern, such as eating fries, chips, and other high-fat foods. "They tend to smoke more and exercise less," he says.

Even after adjusting for intake of fat, fiber consumption, total calories, smoking, and physical activity, he says, there was still a link between soft drink intake and metabolic risk factors.

"We cannot rule out the possibility that consumption of soda is a marker of risk -- meaning it tracks with behavior that promotes the risk of metabolic syndrome -- rather than a true risk factor," Vasan says.

Other possible explanations: Drinking more sweet beverages could condition you to have a greater preference for eating more sweets, Vasan says, which could increase your weight and your waist size. Or if you drink a large soft drink with a meal, you may be hungrier and eat more at the next meal.

The findings don't surprise Paul Lachance, PhD, acting director of The Nutraceuticals Institute at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , and a diet and health expert for the Institute of Food Technologists. "It's plausible," he says of the link between soda intake and increased risk of metabolic syndrome.

But he wonders about the true root of the association. It may not be the soda intake itself leading to the increased risk, he says. "People who drink sodas may be giving up drinking healthier beverages," he says, such as juices, milk, wine, and other beverages.

Soda Industry Strikes Back

In a prepared statement, the soft drink industry took issue with the findings. "Blaming one food, beverage, or ingredient as the cause for myriad health problems defies common sense and doesn't agree with the current body of nutritional science," says Susan K. Neely, president and chief executive officer of the American Beverage Association.

The Washington, D.C.-based industry group represents many companies that make and distribute nonalcoholic beverages in the U.S.

"Metabolic syndrome and heart disease are complex problems that have no single cause and no single solution," the statement continues. Soft drinks can be part of a healthy way of life "when consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced lifestyle," it states.

"We're underscoring the point the researchers make that it's an association, not causal," Neely tells WebMD. "The association found between diet soda and metabolic syndrome is particularly implausible. Diet soda is a beverage with zero calories, and it is 99 percent water."

What's Next?

Is there a "safe" amount of soda? "We cannot really answer that question," Vasan says. The research shows an association between soda consumption and metabolic syndrome risk, Vasan says, but not cause-effect. More study is needed.

Still, he adds, "the group without risk drank less than one soda a day."

His co-author, Ravi Dhingra, MD, a physician at the Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, in Lebanon, N.H., and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, says: "If you are drinking more than one soft drink per day, you may be increasing the metabolic risk factors for heart disease."

By Kathleen Doheny

Monday, June 11, 2007

Funny Photoshop

Funny Photoshop (Funny Pics)

Funny Photoshop (Funny Pics)

Funny Photoshop (Funny Pics)

The King Of Mazy May

Fourteen-year-old Walt Masters finds guarding gold-rich Klondike mining claims is a manly chore--and a deadly one.

Walt Masters is not a very large boy, but there is manliness in his makeup, and he himself, although he does not know a great deal that most boys know, knows much that other boys do not know. He has never seen a train of cars nor an elevator in his life, and for that matter he has never once looked upon a cornfield, a plough, a cow or even a chicken. He has never had a pair of shoes on his feet, nor gone to a picnic or a party, nor talked to a girl. But he has seen the sun at midnight, watched the ice-jams on one of the mightiest of rivers, and played beneath the northern lights, the one white child in thousands of square miles of frozen wilderness.

Walt has walked all the 14 years of his life in sun-tanned, moose-hide moccasins, and he can go to the Indian camps and "talk big" with the men, and trade calico and beads with them for their precious furs. He can make bread without baking powder, yeast or hops, shoot a moose at 300 yards, and drive the wild wolf-dogs 50 miles a day on the packed trail.

Last of all, he has a good heart, and is not afraid of the darkness and loneliness, of man or beast or thing. His father is a good man, strong and brave, and Walt is growing up like him.

Walt was born a thousand miles or so down the Yukon, in a trading post below the Ramparts. After his mother died, his father and he came on up the river, step by step, from camp to camp, till now they are settled down on Mazy May Creek in the Klondike gold country. Last year they and several others had spent much toil and time on the Mazy May, and endured great hardships; the creek, in turn, was just beginning to show up its richness and to reward them for their heavy labor. But with the news of their discoveries, strange men began to come and go through the short days and long nights, and many unjust things were perpetrated on the men who had worked so long upon the creek.

Si Hartman, for example, had gone away on a moose hunt, only to return and find new stakes driven and his claim jumped. George Lukens and his brother had lost their claims in a like manner, having delayed too long on the way to Dawson to record them. In short, it was the old story, and quite a number of the earnest, industrious prospectors had suffered similar losses.

But Walt Masters' father had recorded his claim at the start, so Walt had nothing to fear now that his father had gone on a short trip up the White River prospecting for quartz. Walt was well able to stay by himself in the cabin, cook his three meals a day and look after things. Not only did he look after his father's claim, but he had agreed to keep an eye on the adjoining one of Loren Hall, who had started for Dawson to record it.

Loren Hall was an old man, and he had no dogs, so he had to travel very slowly. After he had been gone some time, word came up the river that he had broken through the ice at Rosebud Creek and frozen his feet so badly that he would not be able to travel for a couple of weeks. Then Walt Masters received news that old Loren was nearly all right again, and about to move on afoot for Dawson as fast as a weakened man could.

Walt was worried, however; the claim was liable to be jumped at any moment because of this delay, and a fresh stampede had started on the Mazy May. He did not like the looks of the newcomers, and one day, when five of them came by with crack dog-teams and the lightest of camping outfits, he could see that they were prepared to make speed, and resolved to keep an eye on them. So he locked up the cabin and followed them, being at the same time careful to remain hidden.

He had not watched them for very long before he was sure they were professional stampeders, bent on jumping all the claims in sight. Walt crept along the snow at the rim of the creek and saw them change many stakes, destroy old ones, and set up new ones.

In the afternoon, with Walt always trailing on their heels, they came back down the creek, unharnessed their dogs and went into camp within two claims of his cabin. When he saw them make preparations to cook, he hurried home to get something to eat himself, and then hurried back. He crept so close that he could hear them talking, and by pushing the underbrush aside he could catch occasional glimpses of them. They had finished eating and were sitting round the fire.

"The creek is all right, boys," a large black-bearded man, evidently the leader, said, "and I think the best thing we can do is to pull out tonight. The dogs can follow the trail; besides, it's going to be moonlight. What say you?"

"But it's going to be beastly cold," objected one of the party. "It's 40 below zero now."

"An' sure, can't ye keep warm by jumpin' off the sleds an' runnin' after the dogs?" cried an Irishman. "An' who wouldn't? The creek's as rich as a United States mint! Faith, it's an ilegant chanst to be gettin' a run fer yer money! An' if ye don't run, it's mebbe you'll not get the money at all, at all."

"That's it," said the leader. "If we can get to Dawson and record, we're rich men; and there's no telling who's been sneaking along in our tracks, watching us and perhaps now off to give the alarm. The thing for us to do is to rest the dogs a bit, and then hit the trail as hard as we can. What do you say?"

Evidently the men had agreed with their leader, for Walt Masters could hear nothing but the rattle of the tin dishes being washed. Peering out cautiously, he could see the leader studying a piece of paper. Walt knew what it was at a glance--a list of all the unrecorded claims on Mazy May. Any man could get these lists by applying to the gold commissioner at Dawson.

"Thirty-two," the leader said, lifting his face to the men. "Thirty-two isn't recorded, and this is 33. Come on; let's take a look at it. I saw somebody had been working on it when we came up this morning."

Three of the men went with him, leaving one to remain in camp. Walt crept carefully after them till they came to Loren Hall's shaft. One of the men went down and built a fire on the bottom to thaw out the frozen gravel, while others built another fire on the dump and melted snow in a couple of gold-pans. This they poured into a piece of canvas stretched between two logs, used by Loren Hall in which to wash his gold.

In a short time a couple of buckets of dirt were sent up by the man in the shaft, and Wait could see the others grouped anxiously about their leader as he proceeded to wash it. When this was finished, they stared at the broad streak of black sand and yellow gold grains on the bottom of the pan, and one of them called excitedly for the man who had remained in camp to come. Loren Hall had struck it rich, and his claim was not yet recorded. It was plain that they were going to jump it.

Walt lay in the snow, thinking rapidly. He was only a boy, but in the face of threatened injustice to old lame Loren Hall, he felt that he must do something. He waited and watched, with his mind made up, till he saw the men begin to square up new stakes. Then he crawled away till out of hearing, and broke into a run for the camp of the stampeders. Walt's father had taken their own dogs with him prospecting, and the boy knew how impossible it was for him to undertake the 70 miles to Dawson without the aid of dogs.

Gaining the camp, he picked out, with an experienced eye, the easiest running sled and started to harness up the stampeders' dogs. There were three teams of six each, and from these he chose 10 of the best. Realizing how necessary it was to have a good head-dog, he strove to discover a leader amongst them; but he had little time in which to do it, for he could hear the voices of the returning men. By the time the team was in shape and everything ready, the claim-jumpers came into sight in an open place not more than a hundred yards from the trail, which ran down the bed of the creek. They cried out to Walt, but instead of giving heed to them he grabbed up one of their fur sleeping robes, which lay loosely in the snow, and leaped upon the sled.

"Mush! Hi! Mush on?" he cried to the animals, snapping the keen-lashed whip among them.

The dogs sprang against the yoke straps, and the sled jerked under way so suddenly as to almost throw him off. Then it curved into the creek, poising perilously on one runner. He was almost breathless with suspense, when it finally righted with a bound and sprang ahead again. The creek bank was high and he could not see the men, although he could hear their cries and knew they were running to cut him off. He did not dare to think what would happen if they caught him; he just clung to the sled, his heart beating wildly, and watched the snow-rim of the bank above him.

Suddenly, over this snow-rim came the flying body of the Irishman, who had leaped straight for the sled in a desperate attempt to capture it; but he was an instant too late. Striking on the very rear of it, he was thrown from his feet, backward, into the snow. Yet, with the quickness of a cat, he had clutched the end of the sled with one hand, turned over, and was dragging behind on his breast, yelling at the boy and threatening aft kinds of terrible things if he did not stop the dogs, but Walt cracked him sharply across the knuckles with the butt of the dog-whip till he let go.

It was eight miles from Walt's claim to the Yukon--eight very crooked miles, for the creek wound back and forth like a snake, "tying knots in itself," as George Lukens said. And because it was so crooked the dogs could not get up their best speed, while the sled ground heavily on its side against the curves, now to the right, now to the left.

Travelers who had come up and down the Mazy May on foot, with packs on their backs, had declined to go round all the bends, and instead had made short cuts across the narrow necks of creek bottom. Two of his pursuers had gone back to harness the remaining dogs, Out the others took advantage of these short cuts, running on foot, and before he knew it they had almost overtaken him.

"Halt!" they cried after him. "Stop, or we'll shoot!"

But Walt only yelled the harder at the dogs, and dashed round the bend with a couple of revolver bullets singing after him. At the next bend they had drawn up closer still, and the bullets struck uncomfortably near him; but at this point the Mazy May straightened out for half a mile as the crow flies. Here the dogs stretched out in their long wolf swing, and the stampeders, quickly winded, slowed down and waited for their own sled to come up.

Looking over his shoulder, Walt reasoned that they had not given up the chase for good, and that they would soon be after him again. So he wrapped the fur robe about him to shut out the stinging air, and lay flat on the empty sled, encouraging the dogs, as he well knew how.

At last, twisting abruptly between two river islands, he came upon the mighty Yukon sweeping grandly to the north. He could not see from bank to bank, and in the quick falling twilight it loomed a great white sea of frozen stillness. There was not a sound, save the breathing of the dogs and the churn of the steel-shod sled.

No snow had fallen for several weeks, and the traffic had packed the main river trail till it was hard and glassy as glare ice. Over this, the sled flew along, and the dogs kept the trail fairly well, although Walt quickly discovered that he had made a mistake in choosing the leader. As they were driving in single file, without reins, he had to guide them by his voice, and it was evident the head-dog had never learned the meaning of "gee" and "haw." He hugged the insides of the curves too closely, often forcing his comrades behind him into the soft snow, while several times he thus cap-sized the sled.

There was no wind, but the speed at which he traveled created a bitter blast, and with the thermometer down to 40 below, this bit through fur and flesh to the very bones. Aware that if he remained constantly upon the sled he would freeze to death, Walt shorted up one of the lashing-thongs, and whenever he felt chilled, seized hold of it, jumped off, and ran behind till warmth was restored. Then he would climb on and rest till the process had to be repeated.

Looking back he could see the sled of his pursuers, drawn by eight dogs, rising and falling over the ice hammocks like a boat in a seaway. The Irishman and the black-bearded leader were with it, taking turns in running and riding.

Night fell, and in the blackness of the first hour or so Walt toiled desperately with his dogs. On account of the poor lead-dog, they were continually foundering off the beaten track into the sort snow, and the sled was as often riding on its side or top as it was in the proper way. This work and strain tried his strength sorely. Had he not been in such haste he could have avoided much of it, but he feared the stampeders would creep up in the darkness and overtake him. However, he could hear them yelling to their dogs, and knew from the sounds they were coming up very slowly.

When the moon rose he was off Sixty Mile, and Dawson was only 50 miles away. He was almost exhausted, and breathed a sigh of relief as he climbed on the sled again. Looking back, he saw his enemies had crawled up within 400 yards. At this space they remained a black speck of motion on the white river breast. Strive as they would, they could not shorten this distance, and strive as he would he could not increase it.

Walt had now discovered the proper lead-dog, and he knew he could easily run away from them if he could only change the bad leader for the good one. But this was impossible, for a moment's delay at the speed they were running would bring the men behind upon him.

When he was off the mouth of Rosebud Creek, just as he was topping a rise, the report of a run and the ping of a bullet on the ice beside him told him that they were this time shooting at him with a rifle. And from then on, as he cleared the summit of each ice-jam, he stretched flat on the leaping sled till the rifle shot from the rear warned him that he was safe till the next ice-jam was reached.

Now it is very hard to lie on a moving sled, jumping and plunging and yawing like a boat before the wind, and to shoot through the deceiving moonlight at an object 400 yards away on another moving sled performing equally wild antics. So it is not to be wondered at that the black-bearded leader did not hit him.

After several hours of this, during which, perhaps, a score of bullets had struck about him, their ammunition began to give out and their fire slackened. They took greater care, and shot at him at the most favorable opportunities. He was also leaving them behind, the distance slowly increasing to 600 yards.

Lifting clear on the crest of a great jam off Indian River, Walt Masters met with his first accident. A bullet sang past his ears, and struck the bad lead-dog.

Like a flash Walt was by the leader. Cutting the traces with his hunting knife, he dragged the dying animal to one side and straightened out the team.

He glanced back. The other sled was coming up like an express train. With half the dogs still over their traces, he cried "Mush on!" and leaped upon the sled just as the pursuers dashed abreast of him.

The Irishman was preparing to spring for him--they were so sure they had him that they did not shoot--when Walt turned fiercely upon them with his whip.

He struck at their faces and because men must save their faces with their hands, there was no shooting just then. Before they could recover from the hot rain of blows, Walt reached out from his sled, catching their wheel dog by the forelegs in mid-spring, and throwing him heavily. This brought the whole team into a snarl, capsizing the sled and tangling his enemies up beautifully.

Away Walt flew, the runners of his sled fairly screaming as they bounded over the frozen surface. And what had seemed an accident proved to be a blessing in disguise. The proper lead-dog was now to the fore, and he stretched low and whined with joy as he jerked his comrades along.

By the time he reached Ainslie's Creek, 17 miles from Dawson, Walt had left his pursuers far behind. At Monte Cristo Island, he could no longer see them. And at Swede Creek, just as daylight was silvering the pines, he ran plump into the camp of old Loren Hall.

Almost as quick as it takes to tell it, Loren had his sleeping-furs rolled up and had joined Walt on the sled. They permitted the dogs to travel more slowly, as there was no sign of the chase in the rear, and just as they pulled up at the gold commissioner's office in Dawson, Walt, who had kept his eyes open to the last, fell asleep.

And because of what Walt Masters did on this night, the men of the Yukon have become proud of him, and speak of him now as the King of Mazy May.

By Jack London

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stone Walker

Stone Walker watched a group of hunters glide toward the forest on snowshoes made of cedar and deer-hide webbing. When they vanished into the predawn mist, Stone Walker tied on his own snowshoes. His mother's clever fingers had made special bindings for one of his feet, twisted since birth. Still, even with his snowshoes' help, Stone Walker moved slowly.

Because of that, his younger brother, Leaping Deer, would someday hunt with others, while Stone Walker would be left behind. Although he was fond of his brother and laughed at his antics, Stone Walker's lips set grimly at this thought.

Finished tying his snowshoes, he knotted a belt over his deerskin shirt and leggings. A sheath held his knife. A larger sheath held smoldering wood chunks enclosed in a clamshell lined with clay. His coiled rawhide rope hung on one shoulder. But as always, he chose to hold his weapon ready.

The mist had cleared, and the sun was poised to leap upward when Stone Walker reached the forest stream he knew best. Along its banks he devised ways of hunting that no other man could teach him. Soon he would surprise his mother by bringing home meat for her stewpot.

When a twig snapped, Stone Walker grasped his rawhide rope loosely in one hand. With his other hand, he prepared to hurl the heavy stone he'd attached to the rope's end. As a rabbit appeared, Stone Walker's whizzing weapon met its mark. Then he used the rope to pull the weapon back and waited for another rabbit.

Behind him a bush shook, showering him with wet snow. He whirled to meet danger and then gasped, "Leaping Deer!"

"I woke and followed you," replied his brother in a weary voice.

Without snowshoes, Leaping Deer stood shivering. Snow reached his knees. His shirt sparkled with frozen crystals left from his many falls. And since he was too young to send back alone, Stone Walker would have to hunt and look after Leaping Deer as well.

"Don't be angry, my brother," Leaping Deer wailed. "It's a sad thing always to wake and find you gone. I'm glad I saw your stone bird fly after the rabbit!"

Stone Walker's anger flowed away as quickly as the stream's icy water. "One rabbit won't ease hunger for two, little brother. But it will warm you. Find dry wood for a fire."

When he was Leaping Deer's age, Stone Walker had often sat quietly observing the forest around him. He had learned much about animal habits. Later, he had fashioned a weapon he could recover easily. Now he found a new purpose. He would teach Leaping Deer to be a great and skillful hunter. This he would do for the sake of his people. Stone Walker's heart felt strong as he prepared to skin the rabbit.

Hanging his rope on a snow-laden limb, he knelt beside the rabbit and reached for his knife. As he did so, a menacing snarl echoed across the clearing.

Facing Stone Walker was a creature he had never before seen. From old hunters' tales, he knew the furred animal quivering with rage was a wolverine. Its broad head revealed teeth terrifying in their sharpness. Though it crouched low to the ground, snow did not completely hide its curving claws.

Memory chilled Stone Walker. He had heard a hunter warn, "Beware of one so evil it is feared by the grizzly that towers over it."

Worse than being chilled, Stone Walker's next thought melted his icy bones. He would gladly retreat like the grizzly, leaving the wolverine to feast on his rabbit, if only his small brother were not too tired to flee. If only he, too, could move faster.

Even as he tried to plan, the wolverine's growls grew louder. "Little brother," Stone Walker said softly, hoping Leaping Deer could hear, "climb a tree near you. Climb high and hold well."

As he spoke, he grasped a fallen limb, broken by the weight of snow. Slowly, using the stick, he pushed the rabbit forward.

"Accept my gift, O hungry one," he whispered, "and grant safe passage for my brother and me." Perhaps the hunters' tales exaggerated the wolverine's vile nature.

With agonizing slowness, he put down the stick and straightened his legs for a step backward. When the snarling wolverine lunged, Stone Walker leaped upward instead.

Uncounted times of throwing and retrieving his weapon had strengthened his arms. His hands gripped the limb above his head. Then he switched one hand so he faced the tree. After bracing his snowshoes against its trunk, he pulled himself onto the limb, sending snow plunging to the ground.

Breathless, he looked for Leaping Deer. When his brother waved, Stone Walker's heart drummed a warning. Leaping Deer had chosen a mere sapling. Already its upper branches were bending under the young boy's weight.

Could a wolverine climb like a bear cub? No matter. The slightest shake of the tree would topple the animal's helpless prey.

Below Stone Walker, the wolverine stripped the tree of its bark in its effort to reach him. To keep from imagining such claws on tender skin, Stone Walker glanced away and saw his rope with its dangling weapon. There, where he had placed them rather than drop them into soft snow, almost within reach.

His relieved shout brought an answering yell from Leaping Deer. To Stone Walker's horror, the wolverine's snarls ceased. It stood alert, staring toward the nearby sound.

Stone Walker shouted again. "Be silent, little brother, else this evil one will find you."

Bending for his rope, Stone Walker thought desperately. To kill the animal, he must keep it here. Was there a way?

His fingers groped toward his snowshoes, and soon he had removed the one on his straight and useful foot. Rapping the snowshoe against the tree again and again, he teased the wolverine, and when it seemed mad with desire to tear him apart, he let his snowshoe fall.

Stone Walker had never hit a moving creature from such a perch, but he had to try. As he braced his back against the tree trunk and launched his strike, his other snowshoe slid on the icy branch, and his effort failed. The wolverine, however, was intent on shredding his snowshoe and didn't notice the dangling rope. Stone Walker snatched it up and steadied himself by pressing his twisted foot into a forked branch. It gripped and didn't slide. Braced in his perch, he aimed more carefully, not daring to think what could happen if the wolverine's sharp teeth sliced his rope, and he lost his weapon.

Stone Walker's arm shook as he lifted it high. He waited, willing himself to be patient until the right moment, willing his aim to be strong and true. "Strike swiftly, stone bird," he whispered.

As the evil one savaged the splintered snowshoe, Stone Walker hurled his missile. But the animal continued thrashing. Stone Walker feared he had failed again, so he dropped beside the wolverine and drew his knife. But there was no need. The animal lay still.

"Little brother," Stone Walker called, "where is the wood for our fire? Mighty hunters must be quick!" The smile on his lips stayed long after Leaping Deer hurried to obey. For as he worked, Leaping Deer sang praises of the mighty hunter from whom he would learn—the brother he would now call Stone Bird.

By Jeanne B. Hargett

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why I hate driving in Los Angeles

1. You must first learn to pronounce the city name, it is L A

2. The morning rush hour is from 5:00am to noon. The evening rush hour is from noon to 7:00pm. Friday's rush hour starts on Thursday morning.

3. The minimum acceptable speed on most freeways is 85 mph. On the 105 or 110, your speed is expected to match the highway number. Anything less is considered "Wussy".

4. Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. L A has its own version of traffic rules. For example, cars/trucks with the loudest muffler go first at a four-way stop; the trucks with the biggest tires go second. However, in Malibu, SUV-driving, cell phone-talking moms ALWAYS have the right of way.

5. If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear ended, cussed out, and possibly shot.

6. Never honk at anyone. Ever. Seriously. It's another offense that can get you shot.

7. Road construction is permanent and continuous in all of L A and Orange counties. Detour barrels are moved around for your entertainment pleasure during the middle of the night to make the next day's driving a bit more exciting.

8. Watch carefully for road hazards such as drunks, skunks, dogs, cats, barrels, cones, celebs, rubberneckers shredded tires, cell phoners, deer and other road kill, and the coyotes feeding on any of these items.

9. Map quest does not work here, none of the roads are where they say they are or go where they say they do and all the freeway off and on ramps are moved each night.

10. If someone actually has their turn signal on, wave them to the shoulder immediately to let them know it has been "accidentally activated."

11. If you are in the left lane and only driving 70 in a 55-65 mph zone, you are considered a road hazard and will be "flipped off" accordingly. If you return the flip, you'll be shot.

12. Do not try to estimate travel time, just leave Monday afternoon for Tuesday appointments, by noon Thursday for Friday and right after church on Sunday for anything on Monday morning.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Kid Wisdom

When your dad is mad and asks you, "Do I look stupid?" Don't
answer.

Never tell your mom her diet's not working.

Stay away from prunes.

Don't pull your dad's finger when he tells you to.

Never leave your three-year-old brother in the same room as
your school assignment.

If you want a kitten, start out by asking for a horse.

Felt-tip markers are not good to use as lipstick.

Don't pick on your sister when she's holding a baseball bat.

When you get a bad grade in school, show it to your mom when
she's on the phone.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Water Dancer

Dancer bobbed like a tiny boat on the blue-gray lake. Ripples rocked his small body while he waggled his feet. Afloat for the first time, he struggled to stay close to his mother, a black-and-white western grebe.

All of a sudden, Dancer felt the water swirl around his toes. A sense of alarm shot through him. His father surfaced alongside, water glistening on his long neck. His cap of black feathers lifted, a sure sign of danger. Dancer's mother moved closer as well and stretched one leg backward. The little grebe stepped aboard and climbed onto her back. The family swam quickly away from the marshy shore.

Behind them, a dark, undulating form surfaced. A blunt-nosed, bewhiskered face watched with beady eyes as the grebes paddled away. Then the river otter began to search for another meal that might not be so closely guarded.

The grebes' home lake lay in a valley among the western mountains. Thickly treed slopes guarded the west and draped over the shoulders of a range of hills to the south. At the base of those hills, a small city sprawled along the waterfront. Its long, wooden wharf poked out into the water and bisected the bay. Dancer heard intermittent noises from the town, mingled with the screams of ring-billed gulls and the twittering of swallows that dipped and swooped over the water. Red-winged blackbirds' scratchy calls echoed along the marshy shoreline. The grebes' chirping, two-note calls punctuated the chorus.

Dozens of birds like Dancer's parents dotted the bay. The colony of western grebes returned each spring to perform their unusual courtship ballet. After the high-stepping water dance, they mated and nested on the swell of high water in the nature sanctuary on either side of the wharf. Alongside them or riding piggyback like Dancer were more fluffy gray chicks. This sheltered part of the lake had become a giant grebe nursery.

Dancer had pecked his way from the egg in a floating, reed-lined nest only the day before. Barely an hour after he emerged into the bright daylight, his feathers had dried to gray fluff. Not yet ready to swim, he left the nest to catch a ride on his personal watercraft—his mother. Snuggled between her short wings, warm and safe on her back, he took his first tour of the neighborhood. As he rode in comfort, his father dived deep into the lake to catch small fish for him.

As Dancer grew, his feathers gradually lost their gray tones. In about six weeks he would look almost exactly like his parents—duck-sized body with little or no tail, dark plumage above and white below, and incredible red eyes. In the meantime he discovered some important uses for his uniquely shaped feet. His lobed toes were rounded and rather flat instead of being completely divided by webbing like a duck's feet. Set far back on his body, they made excellent rudders for steering and strong paddles for propelling him through the water. But if he tried walking on land, he tipped forward. Best to stay on the lake, where his true talent—diving—could shine.

From a young age, Dancer followed his parents in ever deeper dives. His lengthening neck helped him twist and turn in pursuit of small fish that darted about in the depths. His narrow, pointed, yellow-green bill was ideal for snatching and holding slippery meals. Only his wings didn't seem to keep up with the rest of his body. In fact, they would never become very long, or strong. Right now, they weren't much use to him since Dancer was not ready to fly. When he did try at the end of the summer, he would be in for a surprise. Once again, he would find his feet of more use than his wings.

Occasionally the sky darkened from the west. Black storm clouds spilled sheets of rain, thunder boomed, and lightning stabbed the mountaintops and sometimes sliced into the lake itself. Dancer came to know the heavy stillness in the air before a storm. But late one day, the wind became especially gusty, unable to make up its mind which direction to take. The water broke into choppy waves. The grebes rode the peaks and valleys.

Below the surface, all was calm. Dancer dove close to his parents. When he popped back up several minutes later, the wind pushed so hard at his body that his feet could not hold him in place. The sullen sky pelted him with Ping-Pong balls of hail and battered him with wind-driven spray. He dived repeatedly to escape the assault.

On the surface, he was swept helplessly toward the western side of the bay. The wind drove him, like a toy sailboat, underneath the railway trestle into a shallow area he usually avoided. Now it was crowded with dozens of grebes, ducks, geese, and floating debris. An overturned canoe thumped against the trestle supports.

Dancer and the others could do nothing but float low in the water and ride out the tempest.

Once the storm's fury was spent, the sky cleared, and stars winked peacefully against the curtain of dusk. The waterfowl moved to the safety of open water to settle for the night. The tattered remnants of nests and uprooted reeds drifted and gradually sank.

August arrived, hot and still. The air prickled with electricity and held a strange, acrid smell. In the hills to the west of the town, slender columns of smoke curled upward. The night before, lightning strikes had sparked the tops of several beetle-killed Douglas firs. Newborn flames gobbled the fuel and sniffed around for more, growing larger with each meal. In no time, the fire whipped up its own wind and leaped from treetop to treetop. Smoke began to drift over the town and hang above the lake. The grebes floated among bits of wood ash while their world grew breathless.

A loud droning in the sky made Dancer nervous. Echoes bounced off the hills. A gigantic, winged shape descended toward the lake through the smoky haze, skimmed along the surface, and then lifted off again, water streaming from it. The grebes edged closer to the shore. The rumbling faded for a time, and the birds returned to feeding. But the flying monster reappeared, over and over, swallowing enormous amounts of water as if its thirst could not be quenched. For three days it continued, pausing at nightfall or when the smoke from the forest fire blotted out the sky. Then the huge craft sat like a crouching cat on the lake, waiting. A second water bomber joined the first, and their engine noise ruled the valley.

On the fourth evening, a sudden puff of wind skittered across the water, first bouncing up ripples, then carving larger waves. Bruised clouds sped eastward. Up on the hills, crimson fingers of fire reached for them. Flames took giant leaps, flaring up ever closer to the town.

Driven by the rising wind, Dancer and his parents found themselves in midlake, unable to see far through the dense smoke that blanketed the valley. The young grebe felt vibrations in the air and a looming presence above him. He barely had time to dive before a water bomber sliced the water above him. The force of its impact pushed him down, deeper than he'd ever dived. Dancer reeled and pumped with his feet, trying to regain his balance. He moved at last into calmer water and pushed hard for the surface. He was running out of air.

The instant he surfaced, the second bomber dropped out of the smoke cloud, making its belly-flop landing on the water. Dancer dove without the chance to fill his lungs to capacity, tossed about once again in the churning bubbles. He was forced to surface before the wake from the airplane had settled. He was bumped and buffeted, shaken and shocked. The blows left him dizzy and disoriented. Gradually, calm returned. The bombers were still, the smoke thick and choking. Dancer was alone. He drifted all night, unable to locate his parents.

Just when it seemed the town would be lost, the wind turned coward, shifted, then tailed off. The fire would not die out completely until the first winter snow smothered the high ground, but at last it was tamed. By dawn, the smoke layer began to lift, and Dancer spotted a cluster of grebes near the north shore, away from the worst of the commotion.

Among them were his parents, and he swam to rejoin them.

The sharp smell of burning lingered in the air until the fall rains arrived to wash it away. By then, it was time for the grebes' migration to the coast. Full-grown now, Dancer began to stretch and exercise his wings. At first, it seemed no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't lift his heavy body from the water. Then he found the answer—it involved his feet! The trick to becoming airborne was to run, paddling as hard as he could. If he gained enough speed across the surface of the lake, the flapping of his half-sized wings would take him aloft. Flying was the only way to reach the wintering grounds along the seacoast.

When frost decorated the charred remains of the forest, Dancer left the lake. He flew an ancient route, guided by instinct or perhaps by the moon and stars. Off the west coast of North America, with thousands of his kind, he would spend the winter months fishing in salt water. Two years would pass before a mature Dancer returned to this stage among the mountains, ready to dance the courtship ritual of the western grebe.

By Gillian Richardson

Saturday, January 20, 2007