Monday, August 29, 2011


Last week I took these pictures of a friend's garden just as the sun was coming up over the mountains. This is one of my favorite spots in Boquete because of its magical quality which is constantly changing.

I'm putting them on my new storefront, so you can get note cards, mouse pads, T-shirts, canvas bags etc.  Check them out at  Hope you like them!

Dawn Garden
Heliconia psittacora and Cleomes with Fountain

H psittacorum and Cleomes

Finally, here is a wild heliconia - Heliconia latispatha - growing by the side of the road near my house.  According to my friend and heliconia expert Carla Black, this is the most common native heliconia in Central and northern South America.  Wow - such beauty for all of us to enjoy on the roadside.  My gardener and I transplanted a few of them to my garden - we'll see how they do:

H latispatha growing on my road

Friday, August 19, 2011


I don't know about you, but I'm tired of looking at those scary caterpillars in the last post.

So here is something even scarier:  a summary of today's news from

  • Flash mobs in the wake of the London riots causing mayhem in U.S. streets;
  • Joplin cleaning up after massive tornado;
  • After-effects of the mass murders in Norway, which were because of racial and religious intolerance;
  • Continuing violence in the Middle East as the wars drag on;
  • Free-fall of the U.S. stock markets as an indicator of deep recession;
  • Possible failure of European governments;
  • etc. etc. etc.

What's the world coming to?

It's difficult for a thinking person not to be profoundly saddened by the state of the world today.

Surely every generation has said this, but I can't remember any cluster of such disturbing events in my lifetime and can't recall any similar thing in the history of the world.  We are seeing a convergence of natural, economic, and humanitarian disasters and a clear path of self-destruction.

Is there a way out?  Surely.  But recovering from these tragedies and preventing others like them would require a paradigm shift of the global society:

  • From economies and governments founded on greed, profit and power to those based on compassion for humanity and the earth;
  • From efforts of destruction to cooperative re-building;
  • For governments rejecting their agendas of petty politics or absolute power to promoting the well-being of all;
  • From fear of those who may be "different" in their race or religious or personal beliefs to respect and - dare I say it - love.
One thing is sure:  life as we know it will change dramatically.  It already has.  The only question is whether or not we can work together for positive change.

Or will we stand back idly and think it is someone else's responsibility to save the world?

Two others said it better than I ever could:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." 
- Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

And finally, the greatest song ever written, "Imagine" by John Lennon (1940-1980):

Well, that's enough preaching.  Now it's time for each of us to roll up our sleeves and answer the question, "What can I do?"


Thursday, August 11, 2011


Today I spent a lot of time out in the yard for some reason.  I was relaxed, taking note of the individual plants in my garden, and letting the dogs enjoy a bit of sun.

After being inside for an hour or so, we walked out the front door and were greeted by this sight:

A seething mass of shiny black caterpillars slowly moving across the lawn en masse toward the front door.

I had been in the middle of eating lunch - it was all I could do to keep my food down.  They are out there as I write this.  I'm valiantly trying to just let them be - let the birds eat them or let them develop into butterflies or whatever.

But if they make a charge for my door, I'm going to annihilate them.

I did a search on Google Images for "black caterpillar mass" and found this other blog from Panama:

If anyone knows what they are, please leave a comment.  I'd like them to develop and find their place in the sun and all that, but if they like my new heliconias they're outta here.


Update:  Yes, they moved closer to the front door.  Rather than killing them, I picked them up with the pooper scooper and hurled them over the fence into the woods.  Hopefully they won't come back.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Story #1: It started with the wild ride when my car broke down while taking a Panamanian friend and her dog to the Happy Pet in David.  Again, there was a post about that experience.

Story #2:  Last Monday, after getting the car repaired, my Panamanian friend and I made it to Happy Pet and happily found out there was nothing wrong with her little dog.  He had been losing weight because he hadn't been eating a high-quality diet.

Story #3:  Last Wednesday I took Little Bit of Sugar to Happy Pet to have her teeth cleaned.  She is my 13-year-old basset hound.  As it turned out, she is too old for general anesthesia, so Dr. Patricia gave her a mild intravenous sedative instead. This was told to me by Dr. Patricia in Spanish, but I got the gist of it.  It took three tries to find a good vein in my poor dog, then I had to lean over the examining table for what seemed like an eternity to hold Little Bit's head while Dr. Patricia patiently cleaned the teeth by hand.  No ultrasound teeth cleaners here.

Story #4:  Then last Saturday morning Molly, one of my miniature daschunds, had some kind of accident in the back yard.
Molly - the one standing on the floor -
about an hour before her accident last Saturday.
Little Bit and Chauncey (Molly's half-brother) are in
their usual positions on the couch.
I was in the house and heard her screaming at the top of her lungs.  I ran outside, only to see her running toward me as fast as she could, dragging her limp hind legs.  The only thing I could figure out is a ripe grapefruit must have fallen on her, for she was running from the direction of the grapefruit tree.  Fortunately I was able to get Molly into the Happy Pet.  She was in a lot of pain.  Dr. Patricia's English-speaking husband was there with us.  (Dr. Patricia is Brazilian and speaks Portuguese and Spanish.)  They put her on meloxicam, which is a potent anti-inflammatory and painkiller, and said they wouldn't be able to get X-rays until Monday.

Happy Pet, you must understand, is a small but clean and modern vet clinic located in a huge truck-stop service station on the Inter-American Highway in David.  I found the vet clinic-service station combination somewhat amusing, typical of how things are done in Panama.  Dr. Patricia and her husband came highly recommended to me from several people here whose opinions I trust.  Fortunately I had already visited the Happy Pet with the friend's dog and with Little Bit, so I knew where to go in this emergency.

Story #5:  Today (Monday), Molly and I went back to Happy Pet to get the X-rays.  Dr. Patricia met us and another American with his elderly dog who also needed X-rays.  She had been walking on three legs after running into a wall. Turns out the American and I knew each other, so we enjoyed visiting during the long time it took to get the X-rays done.  The X-ray unit was not on-site; instead it was in the back of an automobile garage undergoing renovation in downtown David.  We had to step over metal pipes and construction debris to get to the X-ray equipment.  Some men were pouring a concrete floor in the room next door.  My American friend and I got a big laugh out of the Happy Vet/service station and X-ray/garage combinations.

The X-ray equipment was antiquated, and Dr. Patricia and I had to hold Molly down physically to have the X-rays done - and without any personal protection.  I lectured her, as best I could in Spanish, about how important it is for her to wear personal protection like a lead apron, as she is still young and of reproductive age.  The X-ray technician/radiologist did have a lead apron, which he quickly donned as he twisted the dial about three feet from us holding the dog.

But the technician did manage to get X-rays that were usable, in spite of the old equipment.  The fluorescent light in his light box wouldn't work properly, so we all held the X-rays above our heads to look at them with the fluorescent lights in the ceiling.  They found a hairline fracture in her hip, some dysplasia in the other hip (which may have been genetic), and a wider-than-normal gap between two of her vertebrae where her spinal cord was swollen and inflamed.  But she had been able to feel pain ever since the accident - a good sign - and by this morning she was able to wag her tail - another good sign.

Then it was the other man's turn with his dog.

After the X-rays were finished, we all went back with Dr. Patricia to the Happy Pet office, which quickly filled with other clients.  I also knew all of them - all American gringos, some from Boquete and some from Volcan.  It was like old home week.  Amazing.

In between all the other clients, my friend with his old dog and Molly and I sat and waited for what must have been at least an hour to finish our conversations with Dr. Patricia. Her husband also came to help translate for all of the English-speaking clients.

Dr. Patricia's husband Samuel, who himself has a PhD in Veterinary Science, told me that Molly should be walking by Monday.  No surgery will be needed.  They prescribed a simple vitamin-calcium supplement to help her fracture heal more quickly.  I was tremendously relieved.

Meanwhile, among all the chatter in the waiting room, Dr. Samuel had been talking with my friend about his old dog.  As they got up to leave, I casually asked the owner from across the room, "How did it go for you?"

He replied, "She's got cancer," choking back tears as they walked out the door.

No doubt dramas like this play out everywhere.  Molly and I were the lucky ones today. My heart goes out to my friend and his old dog, whose future is uncertain at best.

And, by the way, if you ever need a veterinarian in the Boquete-David-Volcan area, I can recommend Dr. Patricia at Happy Pet.  She is very caring, thorough and professional.  Unlike some other vets who pretend to practice here and often kill dogs because of their ignorance.

Directions to Happy Pet:  continue on the Inter-American Highway in David past PriceSmart and the Chiriqui Mall.  You will see the sign for Happy Vet in the front of a huge Prime service station not far past the mall, on the same side of the road.  The clinic is behind the gas pumps, facing the street.  Hours:  M-F 8:30-12:30 and 2:00 - 6:00; Saturdays 8:00-3:00.  Be sure to call first - 6948-1476 or 6874-5845, especially if it's an emergency.

And, by the way, while we were at the Happy Pet today my gardener cut down all the grapefruits.

Molly Recovering

Update:  Molly is almost back to normal today (August 25).  Chauncey, her half-brother, knows this and has started playing with her again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Lately I've been lamenting the fact that my little Nikon D40X, much as I love it, is sadly out of date because it does not do automatic image bracketing to make HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging.  HDR images are increasingly used in commercial and landscape images where the subject doesn't move much.  It is not suitable for taking pictures of animals (sadly, as I'd love to try it with the Amigos de Animales calendar). 

I was going to upgrade my equipment and invest over $1000 in a new Nikon D7000 (if I can get it - is hard to find one in stock even in the U.S.).  I've also been investigating HDR software, which is necessary to merge and optimize the different images taken at different exposure settings (usually different shutter speeds if your camera doesn't have a setting to vary the EVs upward and downward).

My Chiriqui Camera Club buddy Edward Satterblom told me a few days ago about an article comparing different HDR software, which liked the NIK HDR Effex Pro application because it is so intuitive: This and the other major HDR applications are available for free trials by download. I tried a little experiment.  I used my good ol' D40X on Aperture Priority with a tripod and manually varied the shutter speed in some random fashion around the automatic setting, taking a total of 9 images.

I downloaded the free trial of NIK HDR Effex Pro as a Photoshop Plug-In.  Then, without reading the instruction manual, I started Photoshop and HDR Effex Pro automatically started.  I selected all 9 images to merge, which took a minute or so.  Then I selected from different pre-set options to produce the effect I liked the best.


Starting image (not cropped or changed in any way - shot as high-res jpg. Selected because it has a wide range of color values with no thought given to artistic merit):

And here is the resulting HDR image from the nine merged photos:

And this was my FIRST TRY, not knowing what I was doing!
There are infinite different possibilities using this software in the manual instead of the automatic mode.

And here is my second - note that the program
did its own thing with the sky:

And my third attempt, trying to be a bit more artistic:

OK, I'm sold!  Total cost:  $0.
When I buy the NIK software, it will cost $159.95.  And I'll be happy shooting at 10.1 Megapixels with my little D40X for quite some time.

A couple of technical notes:  
- I have the latest version of Photoshop CS5.  Not sure if it will work with previous versions.  You can also get it as a plug-in for Bridge and Aperture.

So there you have it - have fun exploring your own HDR world.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Rain off and on all week and on and off all day today.  Big rain last Saturday - washed out a lot of the new excavation for the 4-land highway at the top of the hill going into Boquete.  (Taking a mountain off right next to the main road into town during the rainy season:  DUH!)

So just how humid is it?

When I mop my floor, it doesn't dry:

Two hours after mopping:  still wet!

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining.  It's a lot worse for those poor people in Haiti who have endured so much over the past few years:

Humidity is relative.

(P.S.:  I'm experimenting with fonts and their sizes at the request of a fan who is a bit visually impaired.  Please bear with me while I get it worked out.)