Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Diane Nelson of Wild Rivers Art

Diane Nelson with her critters at
the Wild Rivers Art Emporium.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
While traveling through Gold Beach, Oregon, I came across the handwork of Diane Nelson, a woman who has elevated the popular, widely practiced craft of crocheting to an art form. On display at the Wild Rivers Art Emporium on the city’s main drag, Highway 101, is found a menagerie of pelicans, starfish, dromedaries, aardvarks, wildebeests, camels, flamingos, turtles, lobsters, and octopi. Two of my favorite pieces (an underwater scene featuring a clown fish and a pair of frogs climbing a bit of driftwood) are pictured here. Diane begins each piece by fashioning a wire mold that is then covered with batting, and finished with the crocheted exostructure.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Photo by Donna Hailson.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Wild Life: Surprise Encounters in the Natural World

Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park,
Wyoming. Photo by Donna Hailson.
In our time on the road as "Rubber Hobos"*, we’ve met many fascinating people – from gold panners and a family of wild mushroom pickers in Oregon to a moonshiner in Louisiana, from a mariachi band in Texas to Gullah-Geechee sweetgrass basket weavers in South Carolina. We’ve been awed by glorious natural wonders from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the hoodoo-filled Bryce Amphitheater in Utah, from the lush and soul-soothing Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee to the barren salt flats of Badwater in California’s Death Valley.

Black Bear on a hillside along the Rogue River in
Gold Beach, Oregon. Photo by Donna Hailson.
Along the way we’ve also had many, many surprise encounters with wild animals in their natural habitats. Grizzlies, black bears, coyotes, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, pronghorns, mountain goats, alligators, bald eagles, elk, bison, even a band of beggin’ burros. In Episode 22 of On the Road with Mac and Molly, I recount some of the most magical and memorable of these encounters.


From the time our daughter Brooke was little more than a toddler, through her teen years and even to her adulthood, she and I made regular visits to the Audubon Sanctuary in our hometown of Ipswich, Massachusetts. There we would meander down the woodland paths, climb up the drumlin and esker, and stroll through the meadows to our favorite spot, the Rockery. We would settle ourselves into one of the hideaways by the Rockery Pond to listen to the pickerel frogs and to search for birds, painted turtles and other wild things.

In every moment, we would breathe in and revel in the beauty of the created order. After our sit, we’d scramble up and around the cave-like rock formations near the water and, as we did, we would each unpack our days.

A number of years have passed since those sublime hours in the Rockery. Brooke is now married and has toddlers of her own. Three years ago, she moved, with her husband (a Marine), to Japan. And, there they stayed till just weeks ago. While they were all on the other side of the globe – Brooke and I turned to other avenues for our unpacking: Skype, Facebook, email, the post, the telephone.

Our "Rubber Hobo" Rig.
Photo by Donna Hailson.

Interior of our fifth wheel trailer.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
With Brooke and her family so far away, with Gene retired, and with my work as a writer transportable, Gene and I decided – in the summer of 2010 - to launch into a time of wayfaring. We sold our home and sold or packed away most of our belongings and set out on a journey across North America. Our goal was to seek out experiences that would be outside of our experiences.

Over this time, our meanderings have taken us over continuously changing interior and exterior terrains. Our days of wayfaring and the lessons gleaned from this “rubber hobo” life are now the subject of a book on which I am at work. I should probably note here that I would define a “rubber hobo” as a free-spirited wayfarer - with no attached-to-the-land home - who travels about the country in a rubber-tired vehicle. A rubber hobo may work at odd jobs along the way but he or she remains unencumbered enough to answer the call of the open road whenever it may come.

We are, admittedly, far from our much-loved Ipswich with its much-cherished Audubon Sanctuary, but I have found new sanctuaries for the mind and heart and spirit and I am still venturing out from my room to follow the road to new rockeries: places of yearning and searching and learning.

As I reflect, I note that some of the most remarkable moments in my life have come through surprise encounters in the natural world.

As I prepared the narrative for this program (the bulk of which I will share here), I recalled a trip I made, with friends, to Zimbabwe. We were in that country working as journalists but were able to take a few days away from researching and writing to visit Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls.

We chose as home base for our trip, Hwange Safari Lodge, a 100-room hotel that sits on 33,000 acres abutting the 3.5 million acre national park.  Most of the lodge’s rooms and suites overlook a waterhole and savanna bush and all come equipped with mosquito nets.

On our first evening at the lodge, after a buffet of traditional African fare, my friends and I made our way - at sundown – toward the waterhole. There, we spied - silhouetted in the half-light glow - a herd of more than 40 elephants coming in to take an end of the day drink. The adults strode in slowly and their young clung close to their sides. I couldn’t hold back the tears and found myself weeping and weeping, overcome by so many emotions. I felt so privileged to be in their presence. But there was even more to the moment, for behind them – in the distance – I could see herds of impala, zebra and wildebeest racing across the savanna. The images from that night are indelibly stamped on my heart and memory and I find I am – even now - near to tears as I place myself again in that space, in that moment, at Hwange… Magic.

The morning after this encounter, one of my companions and I were awakened by a commotion in a neighboring room. Our friend Diane had disregarded the warnings of the hotel staff and had left the sliding glass door to her patio slightly ajar. She’d had quite the rude awakening when she opened her eyes to find a vervet monkey cavorting about her room! After some loud hand clapping and shouting, the three of us were finally able to shoo the uninvited guest out of doors.

Later that day or, perhaps it was the next, my companions and I stopped for tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. This gracious “grand old lady of the falls,” established in 1904, is set in the midst of lush tropical gardens. It epitomizes the romance of grand travel but it is also a place where – again – we were to be entertained by vervet monkeys. These impish creatures reminded me of the squirrels who frequented my bird feeders in New England; the vervets were just as numerous and just as mischievous.

In another spot on another day, three of these delightful fellows lined up on a log for me in perfectly profiled poses. What a great photo op they presented!

When I was traveling some days later in a Jeep en route somewhere, I spied three young warthogs off the road. I asked the driver to stop and raced into the bush to take some photographs. I was getting some fabulous shots when – suddenly - a question popped into my mind: “Where’s Mummy?” It was right about then, that the foolhardiness of my impromptu mission became apparent to me. A large female warthog seemed to come out of nowhere to face me. I backed away respectfully and, thank God, I was able to make it safely back to the Jeep. I learned a lesson that day and I am truly grateful Mama warthog left me alive to share it.

Human beings can behave so foolishly - human beings can abandon all reason, all common sense - when faced with a good photo op in the wild. I’ll never forget a story told to me by Nevada Barr in an interview for this program (see Mystery Making in the National Parks, Barr, who is now an award-winning author of mysteries, spent many years as a park ranger. I nearly keeled over when she recounted how a friend, who had worked at Yellowstone National Park, had to write a man a ticket for smearing ice cream on his daughter’s cheeks in hopes of getting a good picture of a grizzly licking it off. Really? Good grief!

Grizzly Bear, Yellowstone National Park. 
Photo by Gene Hailson.
But then, when Gene and I were visiting Yellowstone, we couldn’t believe our eyes as we watched two young men leap from their vehicle to make a mad dash into the woods – tripod and camera in hand – trying to get a close-up photo of a grizzly that we and they had spied some yards off the park road. Gene and I were quite content to remain at a more respectful distance. And, thank God - again - like my Mama Warthog, this grizzly allowed this pair of photogs to live another day.

Yellowstone is the flagship of the National Park Service and, based on our experience, we would say it is THE place in the country to find wildlife. Visitors can view much of the park from the comfort of a vehicle or they may hike the miles and miles of trails to backcountry destinations.

Yellowstone Lake is the highest elevation lake 
(above 7,000 ft.) in North America.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Yellowstone is spread out over 2,219,789 acres, making it larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Seven species of ungulates (bison, moose, elk, mule deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn); two species of bear (grizzly and black); 67 other species of mammals; 322 species of birds; and 16 species of fish all call the park home. There are more than 1,100 species of native plants, more than 200 species of exotic plants and more than 400 species of thermophiles (microorganisms that grow best at elevated temperatures).

Yellowstone boasts 10,000 thermal features and more than 300 geysers. It has one of the world's largest petrified forests and more than 290 waterfalls. There are nine visitor centers and twelve campgrounds (with a combined total of 2,000 campsites).

Buffalo butt, Yellowstone National Park.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Yellowstone was the first national park established in the world and it should be the first park on any list of places to visit. Yellowstone is, as I said, THE place to see wildlife. Hints at that truth became immediately evident to us upon our arrival at the park. As we passed through Yellowstone’s south entrance, we were greeted by buffalo butt. We drove along for quite a distance looking at the backside of this bull that just took his sweet, sweet time strolling down the road, unperturbed by and seemingly oblivious to the vehicles inching along behind him.

Bison at the Mud Volcano, Yellowstone National Park.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Some days later, I’d see another bull, that had planted himself next to the park’s Mud Volcano, showing a similar disinterest in all the folks eagerly clamoring and clustering around him trying to get the best photo. He’d plopped himself down for an afternoon sit and that was that. On the walk up to the Mud Volcano, could also be seen a jackrabbit who was placidly sunning herself just a few inches away from a snake that was moving in her direction.

One is certain to come across a good many “bear jams” – traffic delays – throughout Yellowstone as folks stop in their tracks – in their vehicles or on foot – whenever one of the park’s denizens comes into view. And, just before sunset, great numbers of folk compete for the best parking spots adjacent to Hayden Valley, which has come to be called by many, America’s Serengeti. The soil in this former lakebed permits little tree growth and the shrub and grassland valley plants are frequented by grazing animals – from rodents to large ungulates like elk, moose and bison – and they, in turn, attract predators: bears, coyotes and wolves. Folks pick a hillside, cop a squat, pull out the binoculars and cameras with their mega, mega telephoto lenses, and marvel.

Home base for our stay at Yellowstone was Fishing Bridge, a campground that - apparently - sits in bear central. Here, only hard-sided camping units are allowed and the rules regarding bears are given to visitors verbally and in writing and bear spray, a specially designed-to-repel-bears pepper spray, is available at retail outlets in and surrounding the park.

Bison in Custer State Park, South Dakota.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
When you’re visiting Yellowstone, you’re warned to be alert for tracks, warned to stay away from carcasses (as bears will defend them), and you’re warned to stay at least 100 yards away from not only bears but wolves as well. You’re wise to give other animals – bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes – at least 25 yards of breathing room. Bison are especially unpredictable and dangerous; they can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and can sprint 30 miles an hour. We did see quite a number of bison at Yellowstone but, I might note here, that the largest concentrations of this creature that we’ve seen to date are found in Custer State Park in South Dakota.

In Yellowstone, we saw great numbers of elk (even quite a few hanging about at park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs). We also spied black bears, ospreys, trumpeter swans, moose, and mule deer.

Bighorn Sheep, Estes Park, Colorado.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
As we’ve been traveling about the country, one thing that’s particularly struck me is that we have often seen large animals – white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, mountain goat…even bighorn sheep  – in the middle of densely-populated neighborhoods.

White-tailed Deer at the post office in Manitou Springs,
Colorado. Photo by Donna Hailson.
In Manitou Springs, Colorado, we met two deer walking up the steps of the post office. In Estes Park, Colorado – we came across at least a dozen young elk grazing in a field adjacent to a retail complex. Not far from there, we saw another dozen or more bighorn sheep scrambling up a hillside in a residential neighborhood. It was also in Colorado, where we found a mountain goat lounging on the lawn of a bed and breakfast.

Elk, Estes Park, Colorado.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Scholarly papers have been written in recent years detailing the effects of residential development on wildlife in the Rocky Mountain states. One paper noted that white-tailed deer display a high adaptability to human activity. Studies suggest that deer often select high quality forage near residential structures and benefit from the reduced number of predators found there. Elk, however, initially respond to the presence of humans with increased vigilance and flight. Large developments, such as ski areas, are altering elk distributions during sensitive periods such as fawning and this is leading to a decrease in their populations. But, now…elk are now beginning to move to areas that have restrictions against hunting such as private lands. As hunter-friendly ranches are increasingly being transformed into subdivisions, more land is becoming available as a refuge for elk during hunting seasons. Bighorn Sheep are also now wandering about populated areas searching for food and safety. Humans are crowding them out and wise decisions will need to be made in the years ahead to equitably address these new realities.

Sometimes, human beings decide to let animals alone to just be in their habitats. Humans adjust their patterns so as to co-exist alongside other species. In Louisiana, near New Orleans, we were warned not to walk Mac and Molly by a lake on a campground because the alligators that live therein are particularly fond of dog.

Alligator at Forever Florida,
St. Cloud. Photo by
Donna Hailson.
While ziplining at Forever Florida, in St. Cloud, over pine flatwoods and forested wetlands, I was surprised when I looked down and saw an alligator looking back up at me. I was comforted by the knowledge that I was 68 feet in the air and traveling at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

On my arrival at Forever Florida, which is a 4,700-acre wildlife conservation center, I was greeted by a muster of peacocks and peahens. While riding there in an all-terrain safari coach, I was especially intrigued by our guide’s commentary on the Cracker cattle, Cracker oxen and Cracker horses that all call the adjacent Crescent J Ranch home. It turns out the animals trace their ancestry - in direct line – back to those first brought to Florida in the 1500s by Ponce de Leon.
On the other side of the country – in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, we found some relatives of those Spanish Cracker Horses: burros.

"Beggin' Burros," Custer State Park, South Dakota.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Burros – and the name comes from the Spanish word for donkey - most likely derive from the African wild ass, which survives in the semi-arid scrub and grasslands of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. This charismatic relative of the horse, long of ear and muzzle, might have been domesticated a continent away, but it now spends its days on the prairies and pine savannas of South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

"Beggin' Burro" at my
truck window looking for
a handout. Photo
by Donna Hailson.
At the park, the burros are feral. They were introduced into the area by humans and have reverted to a wild or semi-wild state. More specifically, the park’s donkey squad descends from pack animals once used for treks to the Harney Peak summit. Now naturalized, they often plead for food from park tourists in places like the Wildlife Loop Road where they - quite frequently - cause traffic jams. Their boldness is such that they are now referred to as the “beggin’ burros."

Gene and I - and Mac and Molly – were stunned and then fascinated to find the burros poking their heads into our vehicle looking for a handout. This band of beggin’ burros – which, word has it, especially crave crackers - has quite the racket going.

Well, if we can co-exist with other species, preserve the heritage of other species, and let the tamed of other species loose to be feral, perhaps, we might also do what we can to ensure that still other species are protected so that they may continue to exist…at all.

Years ago, when Gene and I made our first trek across the country in an RV, we were amused and captivated by the antics of the very social, black-tailed prairie dogs whose communities we encountered while hiking near the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

Road sign in Interior,
South Dakota. Photo by
Donna Hailson.
It broke my heart to hear that these little creatures have now contracted the bubonic plague. Plague has been especially active in their populations in the northern Great Plains only within the last decade but the plague was actually discovered among them as far back as 40 or more years ago. The disease appears to be spreading to encompass the entire range of the species. Some environmentalists - and the National Wildlife Federation in particular - are convinced the prairie dog has become an endangered species even though millions still roam the Great Plains.

Some of the research suggests that the numbers of prairie dogs have been reduced by 98% since 1900 (reduced through plague, hunting and other factors). And there are concerns about protecting the prairie dogs that go beyond their numbers. Prairie dog colonies are associated with sustaining more than 170 other species. "In excavating their elaborate burrow system, prairie dogs change the soil chemistry, making it more porous to rain, and increasing the amount of organic materials that nourish it; they are like rototillers adding organic compost to the ground. [In imbuing the soil with such life, prairie dogs contribute to] the vibrancy of those crawling, scurrying and flying overhead. So, take out the prairie dog, and you start by losing that one species. Then add to it all the species in the soil you lose as a result, and then the impoverishment of the vegetation that results." (Source: The Spine of the Continent.)

As I recall the comical squeaks of the prairie dogs, I think how sad it would be to “hear” those voices silenced. When Gene and I were camping in Death Valley, California, I realized one night that I was hearing not one sound. Not an insect. Not a bit of running water. Not a single creature stirring. Not an engine purring, not a cell phone ringing. Dead silence. I looked up to find a night sky – unblemished by light pollution – and awestruck I stood - beneath the most spectacular stellar display it has ever been my privilege to behold. As I strove to take it in, I found myself, as in that moment with the elephants of Hwange, weeping. I was profoundly moved in that silence, under that star-spangled sky, and, as I recall those moments now, I seek the lessons in them.

It was eye-opening, it was instructive, to hear the soundlessness. I was led to think of the sounds of nature I would miss if I could never hear them again: the chirp of a robin; the chatter of a monkey; the rustle of the pronghorn moving through the grassland; the powerful clambering of the bighorn as it makes its way up a stony hillside; the trumpet of an elephant; the call of a humpback whale; the groan of a walrus; the whinny of a horse; the bray or a burro; the clicks of a dolphin; the barks of a prairie dog, the barks of our own Mac and Molly.

How precious is this world which we call home and how blessed we are to share that home with creatures that crawl and swim and fly, creatures that amble and arc and strut and slither. I hope you’ll make time today to get out into the natural world, listening for, looking out for, and celebrating the wonderful creatures that so enhance and enrich our lives.

*For more on our adventures as Rubber Hobos, visit and

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NKLA: No-Kill Los Angeles

"Dog Wild" Posting. Photo provided
by the Best Friends Animal Society.
Of the 56,000 animals that entered city shelters in Los Angeles last year, 17,000 were euthanized. A newly-formed coalition, led by the Best Friends Animal Society wants to reduce the number killed – within the next five years - to zero.
Francis Battista (r) with L.A. City
Councilman Tony Cardenas (l)
on Opening Day of the Mission Hills
facility. Photo provided by the Best
Friends Animal Society.

In Episode 21 of ON THE ROAD WITH MAC AND MOLLY, I chat with Francis Battista, one of the founders of the Best Friends Animal Society.This highly regarded animal welfare organization is known around the world for its no-kill programs and partnerships that all work toward the day when there will be “No More Homeless Pets”®. Best Friends was launched in the early 1980s with a sanctuary at Angel Canyon in Kanab, Utah. Today, that sanctuary encompasses 33,000 acres and, on any given day, some 1,700 companion animals call the place home. The great majority of these will eventually be placed in “forever homes.”
Actress Hilary Swank was among those
on hand to celebrate the launch of
No-Kill Los Angeles. Photo provided
by the Best Friends Animal Society.
In this episode, Francis recounts how Best Friends developed from scratch into a 300,000-member organization. He then offers details on his work in Los Angeles in advising, creating and launching animal welfare initiatives. The newest of these is NKLA (No-Kill Los Angeles). This project, entered into by a coalition of animal welfare organizations, city shelters and individuals, has the goal of ending the killing of all healthy and treatable pets in all of L.A.’s shelters.

The plan is straightforward: provide spay/neuter services where they are needed the most so fewer animals go into shelters and increase adoptions through the efforts of the NKLA coalition members so more animals come out of the shelters and go into new homes. As part of these efforts, Best Friends has taken over the operation of what was formerly known as the Northeast Valley Shelter in Mission Hills. The new facility is called Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Services.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Adventures and Misadventures On the Road

Gene, Mac and Molly at Pistol River in Gold Beach,
Oregon. Photo by Donna Hailson.
For nearly two years, my husband Gene and I have been on the road with our two Old English Sheepdogs, Mac and Molly. 

On April 9, we left Gold Beach, Oregon and traveled 6,242 miles over 29 days to reach the southern coast of North Carolina. We're spending the summer here at a campground where Gene is serving as “Camp Host” while I focus on my writing and radio projects. We chose this place for a “workamping” assignment because it sits on property that includes a vineyard and bed and breakfast.

When we entered into this nomadic lifestyle as "Rubber Hobos"*, it was with the intention of seeking out experiences that were outside of our experience. In "workamping," you labor for a contracted number of hours each week over a specified period of months at a private or public park or other facility in exchange for your campsite and hook ups to water, sewer and electrical power (though some parks may charge for the last).

The Badlands, South Dakota.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
Whether stationary for a time or peripatetically wayfaring, we’ve had quite the series of adventures and misadventures over these many months. I’ll be sharing the details and lessons learned in a forthcoming book. Among the most notable out-of-experience experience for Massachusetts-born and bred Gene was his time herding 250 head of cattle over eight miles of the South Dakota Badlands. My own favorite out-of-experience experience came for me when I starred as a murderer in a community theatre's staged production of the 1940s-era Inner Sanctum radio show, "The Voice on the Wire."

RV fire on the Redwood
Highway. Photo by
Donna Hailson.
On the most recent leg of our journey, we saw the first of a set of adventures and misadventures when we were just two hours out of Gold Beach. As we were traveling south on the Redwood Highway in Klamath, California, we came upon a “Class C” RV fully engulfed in flames (a “Class C” is a self-contained motorhome with an over-cab bed). The occupants of the camper escaped to safety but the blaze was underway a good twenty minutes before the fire crew arrived. As we waited – with dozens of others from vehicles backed up in both directions on the two-lane road – we watched as each tire exploded and as the vehicle’s propane tank went up as well. The seriousness of the situation was particularly impressed upon me as I noticed flames begin to snake up the hillside - in streams of red and gold – heading for the dense stand of Redwoods. The firefighters arrived in time to contain the blaze and we continued on our way.

In the days ahead, there would be more misadventures. We’d be prevented from entering Yosemite because of heavy snow. We’d dent our fifth-wheel trailer and truck in a too-tight turn. I would be diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy after over-stressing my body with too much sun and wind while hiking and dry camping in Death Valley. Our brake lines would be severed while going over a bump in that national park and our water pump, a fuse and two batteries would also fail us in the same place. With no power, we’d be unable to raise the leveling feet on our trailer. Gene would make short work of splicing the trailer wires back together but the latter problems would have us traveling miles and miles in search of a replacement fuse and replacement battery. We’d finally locate what was needed but the “new” battery was dead on arrival and had to be charged along with our old battery (which necessitated another 70 mile round-trip). There was great jubilation when all power was restored and we were able to raise the levelers and get back on the road!

POP, POP! Photo by Donna Hailson.

The ensuing days were filled with excitement and joy as we visited friends in southern California and marveled at the glories of the national parks – Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon – and as we savored the pleasures offered by various cities along the way. Ah, but then, as we were zooming along through New Mexico just past Albuquerque, we heard a “pop, pop” that signaled a double tire blow out on the right side of the trailer. The trailer could have rolled over but – thank God – we were able to maneuver safely to the side of the road. A New Mexico policewoman was with us immediately. I called our insurance company and requested roadside assistance. Two tire repairmen were on the scene within an hour. They discovered that we had wrecked one tire rim and suffered some minor damage to the undercarriage of the RV but, within minutes of our rescuers’ arrival, we were back on the road again. We made our way through several more states without incident (save for my having left a set of keys in a gas station rest room in Tennessee) and finally pulled in – early evening – to our campsite in North Carolina. The next day, we drove two hours north where we were reunited with dearly-loved family members. For weeks and weeks, I've been battling the side effects of the Prednisone that was prescribed to counter the Bell’s Palsy. And, just two days ago, the top of a tree fell on the roof of our RV – more misadventures! BUT…through it all, we’ve remained safe, smiling and sailing forward! Nothing has happened that we haven’t been able to handle!

Zabriskie Point at Death Valley National Park.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
AND now we carry with us memories of Napa and Sonoma counties, Bodega Bay, Point Reyes with its lighthouse, the Marin Valley Cheese Trail, “SoCal,” the Sierra Nevadas, Death Valley (and its Zabriskie Point, Scotty’s Castle, Artist’s Palette, Mesquite Dunes, Dante’s View, Badwater…), the Dumont Dunes, Las Vegas, Zion, Bryce, the Painted Desert, Kanab, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Albuquerque, Memphis, Nashville, the Appalachians, the Great Smokeys…
Bryce Canyon Amphitheater from Inspiration Point.
Photo by Donna Hailson.
I have learned so much over these days of wayfaring but will offer just a brief taste of a summary here: it definitely takes a sense of humor, a reliable vehicle, a well-stocked tool box, the ability to use those tools, an excellent insurance company, and confidence in a loving God to manage life on the road!

For more on our adventures as Rubber Hobos, visit and our newly-launched Facebook page:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hand in Paw: HIP Healing and Art-Making

Photo by Hand in Paw.
In Episode 20 of ON THE ROAD WITH MAC AND MOLLY, I visit with Kitty Terry, Executive Director of Hand in Paw (HIP), the internationally-known, Birmingham, Alabama-based, animal-assisted therapy organization.
Photo by Hand in Paw.
HIP, founded in 1996, provides professionally trained animal-assisted therapy teams to help people heal physically and emotionally. These 120+ teams (which are made up entirely of volunteers) address abuse, disabilities, illiteracy, and chronic and terminal illness, through more than 50,000 visits a year in more than 50 facilities in the state of Alabama.

Kitty, sharing from a heart of great passion for the work, shares stories of wonderful successes through each of HIP’s programs: PETSCRIPTION, SIT, STAY, READ!, and PAWSITIVE LIVING™.

PETSCRIPTION volunteers work with patients to provide medical, psychiatric and rehabilitation services via interactions between them and their therapy animals. Whether it's visiting a child in his or her hospital room, bringing joy to an elderly person in a nursing home, or providing motivation to an individual during a rehabilitation session, the therapy animals bring joy, comfort, and lots of hugs.

Photo by Hand in Paw.
SIT, STAY, READ! helps reluctant young readers who are performing below grade level to overcome embarrassment and improve skills by reading aloud to a non-judgmental therapy animal. This program was first conducted in association with libraries and now helps improve literacy skills in other settings as well.

PAWSITIVE LIVING™ is an innovative 12-week program that teaches compassion and anger management to high-risk youth.

Photo by Hand in Paw.
On this program, as well, we hear about the wonderfully innovative Picasso Pets, HIP’s signature event and fundraiser. In this, a family’s or individual’s pet (a dog, a cat, a bird, a pig, a horse . .  . whatever furry or feathery creature it is they love) is paired with a professional artist (the pet’s “muse”) to create a masterpiece. Each human artist helps each animal artist use its feet and/or tail to paint across a canvas. Sometimes, a nose is employed as a stamp. 
Photo by Hand in Paw.

Each canvas is then stretched, the artist puts on the finishing touches, and . . . there you have it: the most unique piece of artwork you will ever own - especially because it was created with the love of and for an animal. The artwork is then auctioned off in conjunction with other large auction items, and is accompanied by a silent auction. All the proceeds from each year’s event are poured back into addressing the organization’s mission of helping people heal.

Photo by Hand in Paw.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fur in My Paint: Art-Making Animals - from Rhinos to Rottweilers

In the second episode of a multi-part series on animals and art-making, I visit with Tifane Grayce, author of Fur in My Paint. Pictured and profiled in this full-color, hardcover, high-gloss coffee table book are art-making creatures from scorpions to beaded lizards, from macaws to elephants, from rhinos to gorillas, from sea lions to white tigers.

Tifane Grayce
with a jaguar baby. Photo
provided by 
Tifane Grayce.

Tifane explains how, quite early in her life, her interest in this area of study was piqued by her mother’s inspiration and cemented through a TV feature on the gorilla, Koko. In the program, Koko was shown painting and, at a point, this Great Ape stopped and carefully removed a hair from the canvas she was painting. Tifane was hooked.

I explore with Tifane how the Fur in My Paint project came to fruition. The two also explore questions related to animal creativity and aesthetic sensibilities. From Tifane, we learn about some of the animal parks and conservation centers across the country that are offering art in the "curricula” for their charges. We hear how animals are trained in art and how human/animal relationships have been enhanced or changed through these interactions.

Timu is a Black Rhinoceros
that paints with her upper lip
(Racine Zoo, Wisconsin).
Photo provided by Tifane Grayce.
Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and host of TV’s “Into the Wild,” has called art-making “a brilliant activity for any animal in any animal park or conservation center. Painting stimulates the animals and acts as an important ‘enrichment’ activity.”

Kali is a White Tiger
living at the Knoxville
Zoo. She paints with her
paws, face & body. Photo 
provided by Tifane Grayce.
Julie Scardina, Animal Ambassador for SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, has expressed great delight with Tifane’s book: "Fur in My Paint is really fun and interesting! It showcases not only stunningly beautiful artwork created by wild creatures cared for at zoological parks, but in a few words, provides an exceptional insight into unique individual personalities – each animal showing preferences, and at times apparent intent, in how they choose to paint . . . The close relationships developed between the animals and their caretakers are exemplified, as is the length keepers and trainers will go to provide stimulating opportunities for their charges.”

Tifane and I conclude our time together discussing how folks can work with their pets - from cats and dogs to birds and pigs - in creating art. And we hear from the author about two more volumes on which she is at work: Water Colors, that focuses on the art-making of marine mammals, and Bear Naked Paint, that introduces folks to the work of ursine artists. Learn more at

Monday, February 27, 2012

With Flipper & Brush: Oregon Coast Aquarium's Sea Lion Artists

Ken Lytwyn, Curator of Marine Mammals at the 
Oregon Coast Aquarium, with Max. Photo provided
by the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
In Episode 18, I launch into a multi-part series on art-making by animals in captivity and art-making by our pets.

In this episode, we hear from Ken Lytwyn, Curator of Marine Mammals at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon. The conversation centers on the facility’s resident sea lions – Lea, Max and Quill – who spend some of their enrichment activity time engaged in painting canvases and creating flipper prints. 

Lea with one of her flipper prints. Photo provided by
the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Ken describes their distinctive temperaments and talents and details what made Lea, Max and Quill good candidates for art-making. We hear how the three were trained to paint with flipper and brush and how they are rewarded for their efforts. We explore what we can know or - perhaps at best - surmise about sea lions from their art-making.

Max at work with paint brush and canvas.
Photo provided by the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
Questions for Ken: Do sea lions attach any meaning to their artwork? How do sea lions see? Do they appreciate beauty? Do they have fun when they engage in these activities? How do sea lions learn and can we relate their learning processes to the ways in which human beings learn? Are they visual learners? Auditory learners? Tactile learners? Could a sea lion teach another sea lion to paint?

Max and Lea are featured in the full-color coffee table book, Fur in My Paint, that depicts wild animals - from scorpions to beaded lizards, macaws to elephants, and sea lions to gorillas - all creating art. In Part 2 of this series, we'll be chatting with the book's author, Tifane Grayce. Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and host of TV's Into the Wild, has called this art-making "a brilliant activity for any animal in an animal park or conservation center. Painting stimulates the animals and acts as an important 'enrichment' activity. Not only do the animals produce some really nice art, but it's valuable for conservation fund-raising."

The Oregon Coast Aquarium opened in 1992 and is situated on a beautiful 39-acre site on Yaquina Bay adjacent to an estuary and opposite a historic bay front with a working harbor. The aquarium is home to some 15,000 creatures (250 species) and is consistently rated among the nation’s best. It has received praise from USA Today, Coastal Living, Parents Magazine, Forbes Traveler and Trailer Life. The facility welcomes about 460,000 visitors annually and is open every day save for Dec. 25. Summer (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day) hours are: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Winter hours are: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15.45 for adults aged 18-64; seniors (65+), $13.45; young adults (13-17), $12.75; children (3-12), $9.95 and age 2 and younger, free.

For more information, visit