Pillar of moss and slime – 1


If anyone knows what these things are really called, please let me know. I call them “pillars of moss and slime.” It is a column over which water slowly and continuously trickles. And because of this, the column is host to a variety of natural molds, slimes, algae, moss, and grass – growing in different areas on the column, depending on the ambient light, wind direction, and time of year.

This pillar of moss and slime is located in Bern. I’ve seen similar structures scattered throughout western Switzerland (Bern, Zürich, Lausanne, Geneva, Montreux) as well as southern France. I’ll post further pictures as time permits.

A Texas Safari

A guest blog, by Charles Ritley

South Texas, East of San Antonio, is a giant cattle ranch: grassland chock full of quail and deer—and those who hunt them. While Californians discuss ways to save endangered species, Texans swap recipes for cooking them.

But hunting, like golf, is a socio-drinking experience. Guys form clubs that sub-lease tracts on the large ranches—-and build fancy clubhouses, with overnight accommodations, air conditioning, and satellite dishes. They co-exist well with the cattle, it’s extra income for the rancher, and the basic ground rules are: OK to shoot quail, OK to shoot deer, not OK to shoot cow. (But after you pay the rancher, you may keep the cow.)

Now, I don’t hunt. I did hunt when I was a kid, because everyone did. I was a trap shooter for many years and president of a trap club —- but in my later years I chose not to kill things.

But I had a client who wanted to go hunting. I knew a local business who had part of a game lease, and asked them to help. They set up a quail hunt on a big ranch, and I went along as my client’s bodyguard.

QuailThis hunt was a circus. They had a large 4-wheel drive truck with two chairs bolted to the front, where hunters sat, and two bolted to the sides. In the bed of the truck: extra passengers, the dogs, and their handler. Plus, it held 4 people in the cab. Periodically, when they passed a likely spot, the truck stopped, everyone dismounted, and the dogs were set loose to sniff out and flush quail.

(Now this whole thing made no sense to me. I grew up hunting birds. They have a very sharp sense of hearing. A quail can hear a truck this size when it’s two miles away. But, I withheld my advice. I was just another outsider.)

Eventually, the dogs would flush something, birds would scatter through the sky in all directions, and everyone would start blasting away. (Like London in 1940, but without the sirens and searchlights.)

GinThen everyone would pile back into the truck, where they had: 2 liters of gin, a large bag of limes, and a couple of jugs of tonic water, and proceed to make a round of Gin and Tonics. (One part gin, two parts tonic, one slice of lime.)

After several stops, about a hundred rounds were fired, no birds were harmed, and everyone had consumed at least one G-and-T per stop. At this point, my client—-a nice guy and a close friend—-said he wanted to come because he once sold shotguns but had never been hunting. But now he had enough. In fact, he was scared – really scared. So, I had a conversation with our hosts, but their engines were running, and they weren’t about to stop. So, the client and I just stayed close to the truck and out of what we believed to be the line of fire.

But then another problem arose: when the guys climbed back into the truck, some were full of gin and didn’t bother unloading their shotguns. Now, trust me, you do not want to be bouncing along a pot-holed trail in a 4-wheel drive truck in compound low, crammed into a cab with 4 guys full of gin and 4 loaded shotguns. You really, really, really don’t. So the client and I—-claiming we wanted a better view, jumped up into the bed of the truck with the dogs. The dogs, at least, were stone sober. And unarmed.


They got a few quail that day, and as I recall they were thrown away. Quail are good to eat, if you pick out the shot, and no one would do that. Eventually, the gin ran out and we headed home. The client and I fired a few rounds into the air, just to act like good ole boys, but I managed to do no harm to anything or anyone. The client, however, did manage to hit–quite by accident–some kind of little wild canary. It kind of exploded in this yellow poof. He felt rather bad about it.



This guest blog was submitted by Charles Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.


When backs are better than fronts – 3


Continuing Part 2 of the series, the neighborhood is called “The Island,” it’s built on North Padre Island (a barrier island off the coast of Texas) – and it is arguably the ugliest neighborhood in the United States, or anywhere. As you can see over my shoulder in the photo above, most of the houses have no landscaping – just ugly, bare sand.

Well, more precisely, the fronts of the houses are ugly.  The backs of the houses are a different story, as you can see behind my father, who is bringing in his boat to the boat dock built onto his house.


The Island is carved into dozens and dozens of canals, just like Venice only much bigger, and each house is built directly on a canal.  So instead of making the fronts of the houses look pretty, it is their backs, facing the canals, that look spectacular.


Because the canals all lead to the Gulf of Texas, they are filled with saltwater fish – making it one of the few places in Texas that you can do saltwater fishing directly from the dock on your house!

Hidden canals #1: Rue de Zürich


It looks like an unkempt street fountain in the shape of a canal, here at the Place de Zürich, on the Rue de Zürich in the neighborhood of Krutenau, in Strasbourg. And that’s probably what most people would think it is. But they’d be wrong.

Strasbourg is a medieval city, many of whose streets date back 6 or 7 centuries. But the Rue de Zürich is a relatively modern street, created in 1872 by filling in the Rheingiessen Canal. I have not been able to find out exactly why they chose to eliminate this canal, but the timing corresponds to other major canal building efforts in France, most notably the Canal du Marne au Rhein.

Interestingly, there is a fountain just up the street, which celebrates the landing of a group of Swiss in the year 1576. Surely anyone who sees that fountain must be confused (well, I was, until I found out about the ancient canal), because there is otherwise no other indication that Rue de Zürich was once a famous canal!

There are a few other interesting examples of “hidden canals” I hope to share in the near future.


ZurichFountain2 ZurichFountain1