Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Holy Land Visit

After being in Jordan all summer studying Arabic, our study abroad group left in mid-August and headed to Israel (or Palestine, if you prefer) to travel and tour for 8 or 9 days. I was here back in 2000 with my family, and it's been a great experience to re-visit many of the sites I visited then, as well as see some new ones.
The Separation Wall divides Israel from the West Bank and is the canvas on which many choose to express their feelings and politics. The Dome of the Rock is no longer open inside for tourists, but I was lucky enough to have been able to go inside back in 2000, the same year that it closed for non-Muslims.
The Garden of Gethsemane. Some of the larger olive trees in the garden date back to the time of Christ.
The Garden Tomb. There a couple places where Christ supposedly died and was buried. The other major one is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but I prefer this location much more. It doesn't contain the pomp and ostentation of the ancient cathedral, but rather a simplicity and reverence. Whether it's actually the place described doesn't really matter a whole lot.
The Mount of the Beattitudes with the Sea of Galilee in the background.
Saturday on a boat in the Sea of Galilee with some of my colleaques.
Standing at the border with Syria in the Golan Heights. I remember being at this exact location when I was 15 and hearing from my tour guide about how the Israelis have the technology in their communication towers to hear what we're saying. I doubt it, but maybe.

Israel is a beautiful country; and whether the religious places described are indeed the sites of what they purport to be is unknown, but just being in the Holy Land and being able to devote several days to thinking about the life and ministry of the Savior has been a needed break and renewal.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

For You, Mom

Mom, I know I never took my senior pictures in high school, so I decided to freshen up, get dressed, and get a portrait made for you today.
But then I was afraid you might think that my appearance was a little unkempt. Loving you more than my beautiful locks, I thought it best to trim up (but only just a bit), dress a little classier, and give it a second go.
Again, I wasn't completely satisfied, so this was the look I eventually settled on. You're welcome to any of the portraits, and I hope you'll consider this restitution.Love, Your Son,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Men and Rivers

Once an old traveler traveled a trail,
Musing upon minute detail,
But halted his hike when his eye caught the gleam
Of a sunbeam revealing a resident stream.
The beholder beheld the stream held in line,
Cutting and carving the sharp incline.
"Oh," said the spectator, "Isn't this great!"
"It's rapid and rampant, but won't deviate."
"Though steepness and obstacles hedge up the way,"
"The water flows straight and will straightaway stay."

He headed uphill until at the top,
When the water again caused him to stop.
The observing observer saw in his view
The trickling tributary here was askew.
More easy and lazy the streamlet now swerved,
Creating a curious course that was curved.
"But why, thought the thoughtful, lone bystander,"
"Should the water be winding and prone to meander?"
For far back below he saw in his vision
The section of stream that poured with precision;
Yet, here on the forest floor that's flat
Is where the cold current can't stay where it's at.

Then something clicked in the clever man's mind,
As he realized that rivers are the same as mankind.
For of men and rivers, both tend to shift;
Where the path of ease puts you, it's easy to drift.
But the path to perfection has harder things given,
And without them no man could straightly be driven.

- written by me on my mission (2004)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chatting with Locals

The other day I went hiking with some friends from my study abroad here in Jordan to the nearby town of Ajloun. Much of the time, when we have a free day, we like to explore the surrounding cities and countryside. Jordan is beautiful, especially in the Northwest. I enjoy getting out for a hike (and, naturally, some herping) and others enjoy coming along for the scenery and exercise.
Locals are often curious about who we are and why we're in their town, so it gives us some good opportunities to practice our Arabic and mingle with the townspeople. As we were hiking in the Ajloun Forest Preserve, I began talking with a man who knew a lot about animals. It turned out that he was something like a zoologist that worked often in the preserve. I took the opportunity to mention my love for reptiles, and the conversation went from there. It was refreshing to speak with someone who knew the difference between a chameleon and a gecko, instead of using the same word for both. He may have been equally impressed to speak with an American kid who not only knew what reptile species lived in his country, but could throw out the names of them in either Arabic or their Latin scientific names.

More often than not, though, things don't go that smooth...

Today, my peers and I spent the day at the Dead Sea and visited the location held by tradition as the place of Christ's baptism in the Jordan River.
Not being a huge fan of large tour groups or dense huddles in the heat to listen to a memorized script in broken English, I walked away a few paces and sat down in the shade next to a gardener. As is my habit at times, I began asking him questions about the local fauna. His name was Abu Muhammad, and he was intrigued about my interest in Arabic and animals. I don't know the names of all the animals (though I'm improving), so there's always a lot of charade-like movements and hand gestures to figure out the animal he's talking about; or, he describes what it's similar to. I asked Abu Muhammad if there were chameleons by the Jordan River. He said only a few, but he said that vipers were common at times.

Then, he got animated telling me about the wild boars that run wild through the tamarisk and acacia trees. Honestly, most of my interest lies in knowing about the reptiles, but I proceeded and asked if hedgehogs were common out there, too. He nodded that they were, and he also sometimes sees this other animal. I didn't recognize the Arabic name. He said it was this big (his hands were about a foot or more apart), and it's really fast (again, a quick hand motion). "Is it a type of lizard?" He said no, and that it was kind of like the hedgehog, but long and fast. The only thing I could think of was a mongoose, and when he said it was like a hedgehog I'm guessing he meant that it was a mammal.

By then, my group was moving on. He asked me if I had a phone, so I took out my cell phone and recorded his name and number. I can't see myself taking a two-hour bus down to the Dead Sea to sip date juice and shoot pool with this nice gardener, but he had been really friendly and I was happy to talk with him.
My group walked further down to get a view of Israel off in the distance. I shook hands with Abu Muhammad and jogged off to join up with the others. A few minutes later, we began the return walk back to the bus. I looked ahead and saw my new gardener friend waving for me to come over. He had a piece of blue cloth in his hands that he was excitedly peering into. "Nice, I've already got the grounds crew working in my benefit to collect species!" I thought. He smiled as he unwrapped the cloth, revealing two small, frightened turtledoves. I know he was just being nice and wanting to give me a gift, but what was I supposed to do with two birds that were not quite big enough to fly? I asked where he got them. The tree (of course). Where's the mother? Oh, she flew away, he said matter-of-factly. I sighed, but thanked the man. Maybe if I did call him in the future and came to hang out, he'd give me a partridge that he extracted from a pear tree. (Ok, lame joke, sorry).
I asked my colleagues if they wanted two small birds, but they were as confused as I was as to why I had them and what I was supposed to do with them. I ended up setting them down in a shady area where an employee would find them. I did feel bad but didn't know what else to do. Trying to believe that the birds would be just fine, I climbed back into the air-conditioned bus to sanitize my hands and look up "mongoose" in my dictionary.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Little More Egypt

I found this dead mongoose right outside our hotel. I actually spotted it and identified it from the bus window while pulling up.
My friend Josh and I at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor. I think I made him a little uncomfortable.
The four roommates (from left: Josh, Jon C., me, Jon S.) on a bridge in Cairo at night.
Walking through the markets and streets. (Me on the right)

Friday, May 8, 2009


It's been a few days now since I've arrived in Amman, Jordan. The morning after my last final (April 23), I left Provo for the airport. A large group of students and I traveled together as part of a study abroad through BYU. We'd spend the next ten or so days in Cairo, Egypt, before continuing on to the final destination of Amman where we'd study Arabic until mid-August. (This blog now will be designated to non-herping experiences. If you'd like to know of the incredible herping endeavors of both Devin Bergquist and me, you're welcome to view them at: . All my photos will show me wearing white t-shirts since that's all I brought, so I apologize in advance for the lack of variety in my apparel.

In retrospect, Egypt is a blur of pyramids, papyrus, pharaohs, and field trips. In our free time, my friends Jon, Jon, Josh, and I would wander the streets soaking up the culture and trying out our Egyptian. The word "baqsheesh" ( in giving money for service) soon came to mean "just give me some money because I know you're a rich American", and I quickly grew weary of vendors, cab drivers, and basically anyone who seemed overly friendly or desiring to help. It seems like everything comes with a price in Egypt, but since the culture around Cairo revolves greatly around tourism, I became accustomed to being asked for it and should have expected it. The culture is different, and all places have their pros and cons. Egypt has great, cheap food, many great people, and an amazing history. Exploring and tasting and bargaining and admiring were all part of the Egypt experience.

After flying in to Cairo and taking it easy the first evening, we awoke early the next morning and drove to Saqqara where the step pyramids and ancient temple sites are. I can't go into much detail about each day, but will give a quick runthrough. Maybe in the future I'll take a single experience or two and go into more detail. In addition to Saqqara, we spent another day in Giza with the largest, most famous pyramids. Some students rode camels, but I just decided to watch (and herp a bit) since I did it with my family when we were in Egypt years back. We stayed in Luxor for a couple days, sailed on the Nile, visited the Temple of Luxor and the Temple of Karnak, saw the Valley of the Kings, explored the Temple of Hatshepsut, soaked in the Egyptian sun by the pool of the resort, walked the streets at night in search of cheap shawarmas, and just had a ton of fun.

We returned back up north to Cairo to tour its Islamic elements. Our director showed us mosque after mosque and taught us all about the architectures' trefoil crenellation, minarets, and Quranic script decor. I walked through the Azhar Gardens with a few friends and meandered through some markets. Later, we packed up the bus and headed for Sinai.

The Sinai Peninsula was fascinating to me...barren like nothing I was used to, and I find it amazing that the Israelites wandered here for 40 years! I liked watching the few bedouins from our the bus window and wondered what their lives were like. We stayed at a small town near Mount Sinai and that day made the hike to the top. Saint Katherine's Monastery is at the base and houses the burning bush. It's really a trooper to have been able to survive this whole time. People would put prayers in the rock crevices around it, much like at the Wailing Wall in Jersusalem. I tried to read one, but couldn't find one in English. The peninsular travels also comprised of snorkeling the Red Sea at Nuweiba and taking a boat up to Aqaba. From Aqaba, the bus took us the rest of the way up to Amman. Future posts will talk more about life as a student learning Arabic here, but that in a nutshell is my Egypt trip (the herping excluded, of course).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Herping on New Year's

I love the winters in southern California. After being in Provo and walking to school in snow and freezing wind, taking a trip to California in late December has been a nice change. The temperature has been in the low 70s, so Devin and I took advantage of the beautiful weather to get in some "winter" herping. The few short days exploring the boulder-strewn hillsides of Moreno Valley would prove to be just as successful as any warm spring or summer day.

Originally, my goal was to find one of two lizards that has continually eluded me: either the granite night lizard or the California legless lizard. It seems as though these tricky reptiles have once again given me the slip. Although I'll have to await a future day to find them, I did manage to get some great finds in to boost my spirits and fill my herping cantine until spring and summer roll around.

One morning Devin and I drove to the Lake Perris area and around Moreno Valley to hike the foothills and explore the granite crevices for granite night lizards. No such luck this time. Our efforts, however, would yield other herps like side-blotched lizards, western fence lizards, granite spiny lizards, western skinks, California slender salamanders, and Pacific treefrogs. In addition, we'd see centipedes, millipedes, a small tarantula, and a scorpion. Our best find of the day was a lyre snake found under a slab of granite rock. I had never found a lyre snake before, so seeing this secretive, mildly venemous night dweller was a herp I was proud to check off the list.

California slender salamander
Western skinkSide-blotched lizard
Lyre snake
The next day, Devin and I returned to the hills to release the lyre snake and do some additional herping. Lo and behold, not long after the release we spotted a large red-diamond rattlesnake curled beneath a bush against a large boulder. The snake was about 30 inches or more, but about 5 feet from the first snake, we found another red-diamond that was even larger.

Our adrenaline was pumping after finding two large rattlesnakes, so we kept working our way around the side of the hill, trying to stay on the sunny slopes. The sun was dipping low in the sky and our shadows were getting long. We'd only herp for a few more minutes before heading back. I jumped onto a boulder, looked down off the back side, and stretched out below me on the ground was a beautiful rosy boa.
I'd say it turned out to be a pretty decent herp trip, considering the fact that we weren't out but a couple hours each day. I was able to check herps off my holiday wish list that I had not seen before, get some good photos, and rejuvinate my herping spirit that will have to remain in hibernation once I return to the wintry wonderland of central Utah.

Holiday Cardiffering

For those who don't know, the verb "to cardiff" was coined by Devin Bergquist and me to mean the exploration of tide pools. It comes from "Cardiff by the Sea", a beach location in southern California. Rather than say "explore tide pools" every time, why not simplify it with "cardiff"? we did. Now herping, spelunking, and cardiffering can be on one's list of favorite hobbies.
At any rate, Devin and Diana Bergquist, his younger brother Chad, and I managed to get some cardiffering done this holiday break. With the tide at its lowest point in late afternoon, the four of us set out to see if we could locate marine critters trapped in the tide pools.
With blue jeans rolled to the shins, we would tiptoe from rock to rock while peering into the clear, still water for signs of life. Occasionally, a larger wave would spill over sending us several paces back to shore to avoid soaking our shoes and socks. Eager for some interesting finds, we'd hop back and begin overturning rocks, moving aside kelp, and sifting our hands through the sandy bottoms of the pools.
It didn't take too long before we began finding critters!

Our list of critters includes the following: a shore crab (first picture), brittlestars (2nd and 5th pics--the two pics possibly represent different species), a small, unusual looking fish (3rd), and a kelp crab (4th). Also caught, but unphotographed include: a couple large purple sea slugs, a small black-and-yellow sea slug, several snails, hermit crabs, another fish specie, small shrimp, and what seemed to be a baby lobster.

Not long afterwards, we would celebrate the capture of a critter we had especially wanted to see--a twin-spotted octopus. Before the day was through, we would end up finding several. No other tourists found any, but their cardiffering was less than thorough. Devin and I gained a reputation among those at the tide pools as the two to follow if you wanted to see some interesting marine life. The first octopus was small, its body no larger than my thumb. Others, however, would be a good handful of goo and gripping tentacles.
We didn't know how the octopi would react to being held, but they just seemed to want to get away. They didn't bite, altough a large one did ink me before the day was over. It turned out to be a fun, successful, educational day at the beach!