Monday, June 24, 2019

THE CASCADES RAPTOR CENTER, EUGENE, OREGON: Guest Post by Dmitri the Owl, as told to Caroline Hatton

Dimitri the Owl at the Cascades Raptor Center, Eugene, Oregon
My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton visited the Cascades Raptor Center outside of Eugene, Oregon, in May 2019. She took the photo in this post. For info about her books, visit

WOOO-ooo! My name is Dmitri. I’m a Eurasian Eagle-Owl. I like my English species name, which has an exotic, larger-than-life ring to it. It’s much better than the scientific one in Latin, Bubo bubo, which makes me sound a bit like an unsophisticated slouch (nothing could be further from the truth).

Eurasian Eagle-Owls are the largest of all owls. Just look at me. In the photo above, not one bit of my fine plumage is poofed up. I really am that big.

I live in a tall evergreen forest, at the Cascades Raptor Center, a 13-minute drive from downtown Eugene, Oregon. My neighbors residing at the Center are all raptors, except for the vultures, which are carrion eaters. (A raptor is any bird that catches prey with its feet.) There are other owls, eagles, falcons, harriers, hawks, kites, and an osprey. We live in spacious aviaries and are easy for human visitors to see--even the smaller, shy owls when they sit quietly in their little shelters near the top of their enclosures.

We live here because our human staff determined that, for a variety of reasons, we would not be able to survive in the wild. Some of the others were rescued after getting injured in the wild and treated in the Center’s hospital, but perhaps a broken wing didn’t heal perfectly so they wouldn’t be able to fly well enough to hunt.

As for me, I wouldn’t even want to live in the wild! I was hatched in human care. I rather like being served by nice humans who prepare my meals, clean my room, and assist me with educating all kinds of interesting people. When it’s my turn to teach, a staff member carries me out of my aviary to get up close and personal with my admirers, and gives me extra treats as tips for excellence in education. WOO-oo!

I’m a pretty good teacher. I am cognizant of the fact that my imposing presence (I can’t help but look majestic) can be intimidating, but I assure you that I am quick to put everyone at ease. After all, I am the most senior Education Team member—but I don’t mean the oldest or the one with the most years of experience: simply stated, I am the best. Yet I am humble, and would never even suggest that anyone address me as “Professor.”

My peeps are my booking agents for appearances at photo shoots, corporate events, weddings, and on film sets. I am a reliable performer, adding a touch of spectacularity even when all I do is show up, or eliciting a guaranteed WOW when asked to fly. If you’re not convinced that you’ll be as pleased with me as I am, I can provide references.

I could make a fortune, but instead I donate all my fees to the Center. Fundraising is also done by requiring human visitors to buy a ticket for less than $10 to see us birds. But for us, seeing you humans is free!

Although I am indisputably the shiniest star at the Center, there are other stars of the bird world, who all proudly contribute to our vital mission: connecting people to wildlife. Nike is a gyrfalcon. His species, the largest of all falcons, was the bird of kings in Medieval falconry. (He and I understand one another as fellow celebrities)

Another kind of record-holder is perhaps the most, um… cosmetically challenged: the turkey vultures, named Kali and Lethe. I love them, warts (quite literally) and all. They are remarkably intelligent. Theirs is a dirty job, eating rotten carcasses. They deserve admiration and gratitude for their clean-up services, which protect the rest of the world from disease.

The prettiest, if you ask me, is good old Archimedes, the snowy owl, a fluffy white darling. Please don’t tell him I said that.

Well, it’s almost tea time. I must go now, but I’ll leave you to read about what to do if you find an injured bird of prey, so you can avoid doing the wrong thing, unintentionally killing the bird or ruining its chance to return to the wild.

I hope to have provided irresistible details. If you need anything more, please don’t hesitate to have your people contact my people, or come see me during my office hours (listed at the website). I would love to wow you in person!

For more info
A visit to the website is a veritable virtual visit to the center, with bird photos, bios, species info, and lists of supporters who adopted each bird. But nothing comes close to meeting the live birds!
See and hear a Eurasian Eagle-Owl hooting.

Monday, June 17, 2019

SPRINGTIME IN SICILY, Part 3: Catania, Piazza Armerina, Agrigento and Mount Etna

Catania, Sicily. View from the rooftop patio of the Crociferi BandB.
At the end of May, Art and I took a two week trip to Sicily, staying in Palermo, Erice and Catania, and taking day trips to the ancient Greek ruins at Selinunte, Segesta and Agrigento and to the ancient Roman villa filled with mosaics at Piazza Armerina. The weather was warm, but not hot, and hillsides were covered with a host of wild flowers.  Here is the third of several reports of our trip.
For the last part of our trip to Sicily we were based in Catania, on the island’s east coast, traveling there by train from Palermo. We stayed in the Band B Crociferi, where we had the top floor suite with our own private patio and a stunning view of the city. (Climbing the stairs from the ground floor helped keep us fit for walking around the city!)
World War II Museum, Catania.Under the command of U.S. General George Patton and British General Bernard Montgomery, American, British and Canadian forces invaded Italy from North Africa on July 9, 1943. In just 38 days they had conquered all of Sicily.
During our first week in Sicily, the weather had been near perfect–sunny, blue skies and temperatures in the low seventies. But when we woke up on our first morning in Catania, the sky was grey and wet. We decided to head for the Museum of the Allied Landings in Sicily near the train and bus station, about a 20 minute walk in a light rain. The entire museum is dedicated to the American invasion of Sicily in 1943, which gave the Allies a foothold in Europe, ultimately leading to the end of the war. The first room of the museum is a recreation of a WW II Italian village and a docent gave an introduction to the museum (in Italian–we got a printout in English.) She then herded us into a dark bomb shelter where we sat on shaking benches while listening to the sound of bombs exploding (like a Disneyland ride) so we could experience what it would have been like to be in Sicily at the time.
Life size diorama of the signing of the armistice between Italy and the Allies, September 13, 1943
From there we made our way on our own through two floors of exhibits containing displays of photos, newspaper headlines, uniforms, letters, equipment, plus life-size dioramas--a meeting of Churchill and Roosevelt, signing of the Italian surrender, a Red Cross hospital tent, the inside of a bunker, and more. While most labels were only in Italian, each room had a panel of information translated into English.
Contact sheets of photos taken by Phil Stern of the Sicily campaign.
On the ground floor we discovered an exhibit of stunning photos by American photographer Phil Stern, who had landed with the troops. At age 93 (in 2013) he returned for the inauguration of the exhibit of his Sicily photos, now a permanent part of the museum.
Mosaics at Villa Romana de Casale in Piazza Armerina. The excellent condition of the mosaics is due to a landslide that sealed off the area for 600 years and protected the art. Excavations began in the 1930s. It is the largest collection of Roman floor mosaics ever found in situ. It is a World Heritage Site.
Before our trip we made the decision that we wouldn’t drive in Sicily, even though we typically rent a car when we go on vacation. But the reputation of crazy Italian drivers and the narrow cobblestone streets, built long before cars were ever invented, convinced us that we would be happier having someone else behind the wheel. So we arranged for a small group tour (there was only one other couple) to go to Piazza Armerina and Agrigento. Our guide, Carlo, was an excellent driver.
The most famous room at the Villa Romana shows “bikini girls”–female figures dressed for physical exercise.
We headed first to Piazza Armerina and the Villa Romana de Casale, nestled at the bottom of a valley about three miles from the town. Built in about A.D, 300 by a powerful Roman magistrate, its many spacious rooms are filled with lavish mosaics of people, animals, flowers, plants, that seem to go on forever as you make your way around the elevated walkways for a birds-eye view of the rooms. One long hallway is filled with depictions of animals from Africa, which were captured and brought to Sicily on their way to the Coliseum on Rome.
Lunch in the old town of Piazza Armerina
For lunch Carlo took us to a small wine shop, Siciliartegusto, in the old part of Piazza Armerina, where a Sicilian “snack” had been prepared for us–cold cuts, cheese, bread, focaccia, and arancini (a kind of filled rice croquette) along with red wine from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Etna.

Agrigento. Temple of Concordia. Built in 435 B.C., this is one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world. A workman inside reveals the grand scale of the temple.
From Piazza Armerina it was about an hour and a half drive to Agrigento, another World Heritage Site, to see the Greek temple ruins. Called the Valley of the Temples, the ruins are actually on a hill and spread over many acres.

Temple of Juno. Yellow genestra flowers grow wild all over Sicily.
Carlo let us off at the highest point of the archeological park, and we walked downhill from there to meet him at another parking area at the other end. On our way we passed Greek ruins in various states of repair, early Christian burial caves, the house of English archeologist Alexander Hardcastle, and a herd of goats, a breed unique to Sicily.
As we walked across the loose lava it felt like a combination of moonscape and miracle of life, as we stepped around tiny plants taking a foothold in the mineral rich lava. (Note the tiny figures on the far rim.)
The next morning we went on another small group tour, this time to Mount Etna. Marco was our driver and guide. We stopped to pick up lunch food in the town of Zafferena, and then went to the north side of the mountain–which according to Marco had better weather and was less crowded. We took a relatively short walk to climb one of the cinder cones, then stopped to see where a recent lava flow had engulfed a hotel, and finally, after eating our picnic lunch, toured a lava cave.

Interior of Chiesa di San Francesco Borgia on Via Crociferi
Our last day in Sicily was devoted to sightseeing in Catania. On our way down Via Crociferi (a Unesco Heritage site, named for the several churches that line the street), we stopped at the Chiesa di San Francesco Borgia to see a display of liturgical silver and to admire the complex colored marble inlay of the walls, floors, altars, etc.--the Baroque version of Byzantine mosaics--and the soaring painting on the inside of the dome.
The elephant with an Egyptian obelisk on its back is the symbol of Catania. It sits at the center of Piazza del Duomo.
From there we went to the piazza in front of the Duomo and took a brief look at the cathedral--all white stone on the inside..
Dried beans and nuts at the Catania fish market.
After a wander through the fish and produce market, we headed to the Teatro Romano, a Greek open air theater rebuilt in Roman times and which includes the renovation of a 19th century house that had been incorporated into one of the ancient walls.
Teatro Romano with the bell towers of the Duoma visible behind.
Then, after a pizza lunch at an outdoor cafĂ©, we walked up the main street, Via Etna, looking for souvenirs at the market stalls along the side streets–buying some pistachio paste, saffron marmalade and a small ceramic box.
Fruit stand with oranges and pomegranates at Piazza Mazzini. On one corner is an outdoor cafe, Trattoria Enoteca, where we ate lunch under the colonnade.
In our two weeks in Sicily we got a taste of its many layers of history, the variety of its landscape, and, of course, the wealth of its delicious food. As our plane took off from the Catania airport as we headed home, we got a good view of Mount Etna towering over the city. Just three days later, the top of Etna erupted, spewing fiery lava into the air. In some ways, we wished we had been there  to see it in person. But in other ways we were glad we were safe back in Los Angeles.
Mount Etna, May 28, 2019.  Smoke is hovering over the crater and patches of snow from the previous winter still cling to its sides.

Monday, June 10, 2019

SPRINGTIME IN SICILY, Part 2: Erice, Selinunte and Segusta

Selinunte, Sicily. Acanthus flowers grow among the ruins of Temple C on the Acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Selinunte. Their leaves inspired the design of the tops of the Corinthian columns.
At the end of May Art and I took a two week trip to Sicily, staying in Palermo, Erice and Catania, and taking day trips to the ancient Greek ruins at Selinunte, Segesta and Agrigento and to the ancient Roman villa filled with mosaics at Piazza Armerina. The weather was warm, but not hot, and hillsides were covered with a host of wildflowers.  Here is the second of several reports of our trip.
Rooftops and cobbled street in Erice.
After three days in Palermo, our next five nights were spent in the tiny hilltop town of Erice, about an hour and a half drive from the Palermo airport. The narrow cobbled streets, Norman castle, and old churches make you feel as if you have been transported in time to the Middle Ages–when Erice was a thriving center on Sicily’s west coast.
Erice. The Norman castle known as the Castle of Venus, built on the site of a 7th C. BC temple, was later converted to the Temple of Venus by the ancient Romans. The castle was a stronghold in the Middle Ages. Now it is an archeological site.
Today Erice is largely a tourist destination and the coastal town of Trapani below is the larger population center. Erice is the home of the Ettore Majorana Foundation, which was sponsoring a scientific conference that my husband Art was attending and the reason for our trip to Sicily. While Art was at his meetings I joined the tourists and wandered the streets, exploring the castle and other historic buildings and browsing in the shops along the main street. (Erice is small–one can walk around the whole town in an hour.)
The trinacria, an image with a face in the center and three bent legs, is the ancient symbol of Sicily. Here is a terracotta version. Red glazed pottery is typical of the region.
The shops were full of local crafts–colorful rugs and pottery–and typical foods such as the curly busiati pasta, salt harvested from the shallow salt pans in Trapani and sweets for which Erice is famous.
Colorful cotton rag rugs are a typical craft of Erice.
While most visitors to Erice are day trippers, either riding the cable car from Trapani or driving up the windy road to park outside the Erice town gate, there are a few hotels. We stayed in rooms provided by the conference center.
Queen Anne's Lace growing above the castle walls.
By evening the streets are mostly empty and on several nights that we were there the mist moved in from the sea creating a ghostly feel as the cool, moist air slid through the narrow streets. 
Selinunte, Temple E. This temple was reconstructed in the 1950s and is one of the few of the Greek ruins in Sicily that you can walk around and experience from the inside.
The last day of Art’s conference was an organized bus trip from Erice to the ancient Greek ruins at Selinunte and Segesta. Selinunte, about an hour’s drive from Erice on Sicily's south coast, was once a thriving Greek city covering 250 acres. Originally established in 638 B.C. by the Greeks, then taken over by the Carthaginians, it was abandoned after the Romans took over Sicily around 200 B.C. Today Selinunte is an archeological park, with piles of pieces from collapsed buildings, and one reconstructed temple where you can walk around the interior (unlike temples at other sites in Sicily) and imagine what it might have been like to live in ancient times.
The modern seaside town of Selinunte, viewed from the archeological site.
Following paths lined with spring wild flowers, we explored the ruins, then went into town for a delicious lunch of risotto, pasta, seafood and fresh fruit at a restaurant overlooking the beach.
Ancient Greek temple at Segesta.
After lunch, we got back on the bus to drive to Segesta to see another Greek temple, this one perched high on a hill overlooking a gorge, and to see an amphitheater at the top of an adjacent hill. The temple was never finished (the columns are unfluted) and one view by historians is that it was built to impress a visiting delegation from Athens and then abandoned after they left.
Ancient Greek theater at Segesta. It is known for its excellent acoustics.
An alternative to the long walk up the hill to the site of amphitheater is a small shuttle bus, which we took. We walked back down, enjoying the late afternoon sun that highlighted the temple and the roadside flowers.
Several varieties of thistle are common in Sicily.
On our way back to Erice for our last night on Sicily's west coast, we enjoyed the views of rolling farmland and of the seaside below as the bus wound its way up to the top of the hill.
Sicilian countryside. View from Erice.
The following morning we headed back to Palermo and caught a train to Catania for five days on Sicily's east coast.

Monday, June 3, 2019

SPRINGTIME IN SICILY, Part 1: Three Days in Palermo

View of Palermo, Sicily, from the roof of Monreale Cathedral
At the end of May my husband and I took a two week trip to Sicily, staying in Palermo, Erice and Catania, and taking day trips to the ancient Greek ruins at Segesta, Selinunte and Agrigento, to the 4th century Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, and to Mount Etna. The weather was warm, but not hot, and hillsides were covered with poppies, Queen Anne’s lace and a host of other wild flowers.  Here is the first of several reports of our trip.

Piazza San Domenico. Horse and buggy rides through the streets of the historic center of Palermo are a popular tourist activity.
We began our trip to Sicily in the capital city of Palermo, a bustling historic city dating back to pre-Roman times. We expected to find beautiful churches,16th century palaces, thriving street markets, and an abundance of restaurants as described in our guidebooks, but were surprised by the discovery of the hidden museum of hand painted tiles that was our B&B, the green retreat of the Botanical Garden and its art gallery filled with colorful ceramics, and a butterfly house tucked in a courtyard along the busy main tourist street, Via Vittorio Emmanuel.
Stanze al Genio, Ceramic tile museum and our B&B
On our first morning we shared a taxi with two other guests from our B&B (Stanze al Genio) for the half hour ride to Monreale to see the magnificent cathedral perched on the hill overlooking the valley of Palermo.
Monreale Cathedral. Christ Pantocrator is shown in the typical style of the Eastern Orthodox Church The gold background of the mosaics was created by sandwiching a thin piece of gold leaf between layers of glass.
Built in the 12th century, the Monreale cathedral is covered with glittering Byzantine mosaics reflecting the stories of the Bible but also with patterns and designs showing the Arab influence of the Muslim culture that preceded the Norman conquest of Sicily.
One of many stories of the Bible depicted on the Cathedral walls.
We rented wands with an English narrative to get an overview of the cathedral's history as we toured the inside. Then, climbing a winding staircase we went to the roof for a spectacular view.
Spring flowers at the Palermo Botanical Garden
In the afternoon, after a relaxed lunch back in Palermo, we walked to the Botanical Garden, a haven of greenery with shaded paths, benches for resting,  greenhouses, a water garden, and an art gallery filled with colorful ceramics.
Ceramic vase by Sicilian artist Giovanni de Simone, on display at the gallery of the Palermo Botanical Garden
On our second day we did a self-guided walking tour of the historical center of Palermo starting with a visit to the Piazza Bellini (also the location of the tourist information center) and its trio of churches–Santa Catorina, La Martorena and San Cataldo..
La Martorena, begun in the 12th Century, is a mixture of Baroque and Norman styles. The Baroque altar was added when the church was enlarged in the 16th century.
We paid the entrance fee and went inside La Martorena, filled with gorgeous gilded mosaics of the same period as Monreal, but feeling much more intimate because we could see them up close.
Close-up of one of the mosaics at La Martorena
A few steps down the street is another piazza and the Fontana Pretoria, or Fountain of Shame, notable for its statues whose private parts were removed (a long time ago) by nuns from the adjacent convent who were offended by the figures’ nudity.
Animal heads at the Fontana Pretoria
I was more intrigued by the variety of animal heads–a horse, giraffe, rhinoceros and more-- circling the fountain’s lower level, each spouting a stream of water into the surrounding pool.
Palermo Cathedral
Baroque architecture dominates the historic center of Palermo–from private homes and palaces to the massive Palermo Cathedral (actually a mixture of architectural styles.) Visiting the Cathedral is free (unlike most other churches) and provided a welcome place to rest during our walking tour. We made a point to visit the Regional Archeological Museum, hoping to see the ancient sculptures found at Selinunte (which we would visit later in the trip) but found that most of the museum was closed and the only exhibit was of items from Pompeii.
Ballaro market stall
On our last day in Palermo we visited the boisterous Ballero market, an open-air string of stalls winding for blocks through the neighborhood west of the train station. Vendors compete with one another, shouting out their wares–from slices of swordfish and  plates of octopus (cut up and marinated) to eggplants, oranges, cherries, giant zucchinis and more.  Food in Sicily is always fresh and delicious. From pasta and pizza to antipastos and pastries, it was difficult to choose what to eat.
Our lunch at Cavu, a neighborhood restaurant near our B&B
After three days in Palermo we were making progress on getting over our jet lag (nine hours from Los Angeles) and ready to go to Erice, where Art would be attending a conference for five days and I would explore the cobbled streets and historic sites. For more information about what to see and do in Palermo, click HERE.
Butterfly at the Casa della Farfalle on Via Vittorio Emmanuel in Palermo