You might never see it again

Lost.  I get lost sometimes.  Not that it bothers me.  Many times I intentionally lead myself astray so I can wander the unseen, the unexplored, the oft forgotten.  When it becomes important I will find my way home.  Eventually.

Only this time my adventure into nowhere stemmed from a series of wrong turns, not a sense of “let’s see what’s out there…”

Near that ethereal line that delineates the United States from Mexico, I sat upon some rural road unknown to all but local maps, a path whereupon even nature lovers failed to pass by on their search for rare beauty.  No great gasping groups of trucks and SUVs poking and prodding their way beyond.  No cars full of wide eyes hoping for a brief sighting, hoping for another notch on their life list.  No ogling, awestruck, mouths-agape naturalists in a heartfelt quest to find the exquisite hiding amongst nature’s few remaining refuges.  For that matter, not even locals bouncing around inside rusty, squeaking pickups leaving a cloud of dust in their wake as a load of hay or feed slides around in the bed.

No, this time I was utterly lost and utterly alone.

I sat glaring at a map for a while before realizing I had no idea what road I was on or how I had arrived there, so a piece of paper with a bunch of squiggly lines on it meant nothing.  Instead of worrying about the situation or fearing a Deliverance moment, I rolled down the windows, sipped my water, and looked and listened.

And then I found a rare, endangered, magical thing.

Its patterned coat made it all but invisible.  Were I not prone to staring off into space looking for what might be there, I would never have seen the wee bit of movement as it shifted in its perch.

I rolled the car forward ever so slowly and only for a small distance to get beyond two trees that blocked my view.

Peering through brush so thick one might think it a figment of imagination, a feline rested comfortably in the treetops.  No busy to-and-fro vehicles interrupted the moment.  No planes overhead drowned out the sounds of the environment.  While I sat like a stranded motorist on the roadside, this mystical creature slept comfortably with a branch for a pillow.

Then it woke, turned and stared.

A Texas ocelot (Leopardus pardalis albescens) resting in a tree (2009_05_22_020646)

The cat gazed at me through half-shut eyes for but a few moments, after which it slowly looked about, pausing frequently to stare into places I could not see.  For almost 30 minutes I watched it, a lazy afternoon manifest in the unworried face of this critically endangered ocelot subspecies.

Fewer than 100 Texas ocelots (Leopardus pardalis albescens) survive in the wild, at least as far as we know.  About half that number lives within the confines of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in far South Texas.  The remainder seek shelter in brush a wee bit north and south along the Gulf Coast.

Once known throughout Texas and parts of New Mexico, Louisiana and Arkansas, not to mention the northernmost reaches of eastern Mexico, less than 1% of their original habitat remains available to them.  The rest: Fragmented, modified for farming and ranching, covered with houses and roads, and otherwise turned into a deadly menagerie of torturous obstacles.

At the height of the fur trade people killed ocelots at the rate of 200,000 per year (it took 13 adult cats to make a single coat).  They continue facing illegal poaching, retribution hunting for poultry deaths, and even capture for domestication, yet habitat destruction is their worst enemy.  The ocelot struggles to survive as a true wild species.  But most especially the Texas ocelot, a subspecies pushed to the brink of extinction—and held there.

Great efforts are underway at federal and state levels to increase the brush habitat this species needs to survive.  Plans are in the works to create safe passages under roads; high-speed vehicles kill these animals at an alarming rate.  Even ranchers are learning the $2-per-acre income from cattle can increase fivefold if they return the land to its original form and allow eco-tourism and hunting (of legal game such as deer).

Throughout our encounter I never flinched, never took my eyes off the cat, never moved to get out of the car for a better view.  I even ignored having a shorter lens on the camera as I feared the creature might disappear if I looked away long enough to load better glass.  Besides, just seeing one—especially one without a collar—meant a great deal more pesonally than any picture would convey to others.

Finally the ocelot stood, arched its back, and vanished into the shadows.  I stared after it for some time longer, its coat providing the ability for it to remain unseen even when nearby, yet nothing moved in the brush save the occasional bird.  If it was still there, it wanted nothing more to do with me.

I needed more than an hour and a half to find my way back to the highway.  Partly because a maze of nameless roads kept me circling the same plot of land and partly because I moved slowly, always watching, pausing often, hoping to see another of these gods of the brush.  I knew I might never have another chance.

[cross-posted to The Clade]

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge – Part 2

I girded myself for a second day in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  Every part of my body itched from mosquito bites.  And where mosquitoes had yet to nibble my flesh, deer flies had graced me with a polka-dot pattern of damage.  Still, I refused to slather anything on the wounds to salve the constant discomfort just as I refused to apply chemical armor for the fight ahead.  Wildlife seemed so uncomfortable already, so displaced by lack of fresh water, food and shelter, hence marching into the refuge cloaked in a noxious cloud felt like an even worse idea than it normally would be.

A light rain had fallen the previous afternoon and evening, nothing more than a sprinkle blanketed across hours.  I held little hope that it proffered anything more than a tease for this parched and dying retreat.

A killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) standing on exposed aquatic vegetation (2009_05_16_018783)

Two killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) made a brief appearance in what had been a brackish pond, one of a handful separated from salt marshes by ancient oyster shell ridges.  The birds bathed atop aquatic vegetation exposed by too little water.  As I watched the plovers tend to their hygiene needs, I wondered about the plethora of white feathers scattered over the surface.  Then I realized the blanket of white didn’t come from birds: it was crystallized salt.  This slough should be mostly fresh water but never recovered from Hurricane Ike’s storm surge.  As the water continued to retreat, the high saline content became a sort of tropical snow spread over the landscape.

A prairie racerunner (a.k.a. prairie six-lined racerunner; Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis) standing on sandy soil (2009_05_16_018812)

Like other whiptails, the prairie racerunner (a.k.a. prairie six-lined racerunner; Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis) is both diurnal and insectivorous.  I saw a few of them in the coastal woodlands and an individual in grasslands near the swamps and marshes.  Those in the oak & redbay forest had gathered to feast on a swarm of flies hovering over the sandy ground.  The small dark cloud of buzzing arthropods brought the lizards out from all directions.  As for the racerunner in the grasslands, it seemed desperate to find food and chased anything that moved—which was very little.  In previous years I’ve tripped over the army of whiptails scampering about at high speed.  But not this year.

A Common raccoon (a.k.a. northern raccoon, washer bear, or coon; Procyon lotor) walking in the surf at the Texas coast (2009_05_16_018826)

Common raccoons (a.k.a. northern raccoon, washer bear, or coon; Procyon lotor) were out in force.  I spotted this one at noon hunting in the surf whilst trying unsuccessfully to keep its feet dry.  While they don’t have to be nocturnal, so many individuals active throughout the day leads me to wonder if their behavior has changed in response to ecological pressure.  I saw no armadillos and no opossums; likewise, I saw no squirrels and no chipmunks.  Groups of wild boar and javelina moved further inland such that I only saw them from great distances as they hid in mottes.  Their numbers have been greatly reduced.

A white prickly poppy (a.k.a. bluestem pricklypoppy; Argemone albiflora) flower (2009_05_16_018935)

White prickly poppy (a.k.a. bluestem pricklypoppy; Argemone albiflora) is drought tolerant.  Or so it should be.  Few of these native plants were flowering; all of them—like this one—showed a growing number of withering leaves.  Wildflowers and grasses in the refuge look stunted at best and dead at worst.  Yet lack of fresh water in the ground explains only half the problem.  The high salt content not flushed by local and upstream rainfall has damaged the soil chemistry, an issue that won’t soon disappear given the amount of dry salt left behind as water evaporates.  Even heavy rain will not easily wash that away given the volume of salt and how much moisture the soil can now absorb.  And it wounded me to see so many trees that never returned from winter slumber…

A swamp that serves as the alligator viewing area at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (2009_05_16_018911)

The alligator viewing area.  A fence stretched along the swamp keeps little children and stupid people from becoming lunch.  A few years ago this place crawled with large reptiles bathing in sunshine, floating at the surface, hiding in the reeds and perching along the banks.  This year?  Not one alligator seen over an entire weekend, at least not here where they should have been numerous.  Then again, I saw not one turtle and not one frog, and only one species of snake throughout the whole refuge—throughout the whole weekend.

A white peacock butterfly (Anartia jatrophae) perched on a stem (2009_05_16_018890)

A white peacock butterfly (Anartia jatrophae) perched only long enough for a single photo, after which it flitted away through the barren landscape.  The distance from flower to flower, at least from its perspective, must have seemed gigantic.  Of more than 700 plant species within the refuge, many are dead or dying while the rest struggle to hold on to what little life they have left.  And of more than 100 wildflower species, perhaps 20-30 bloomed this year.

This will be the last of my personal observations from the refuge.  The final installment of this series will include a few more images along with quotes from various sources about the changed climate in this part of the world.

[cross-posted to The Clade]

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge – Part 1

Hank Fox said this to me once: “The idea of waiting for days in a mosquito-infested swamp for that rare pic of a reticulated dingfoozle just boggles me.”  Although I saw no dingfoozles—reticulated or otherwise—I did spend days in mosquito-infested swamps, woodlands and marshes.  Mosquitoes and deer flies munched on me without pause.  Internal dialogue about the problem quickly turned to under-the-breath external dialogue punctuated by vulgarities that would strip paint off a wall.  “Ouch!” became the weekend’s key phrase.  Hank’s comment made me laugh through it all, so I dedicate the rest of this series to him.

The time I spent in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas left me with almost 100 mosquito bites and an innumerable collection of wounds inflicted by deer flies[1].  (Thankfully the horse flies left me alone.)  I even drove home with more than a dozen mosquitoes in my car, a collection that I began early in the morning on my first day and that grew throughout the weekend.  Many more perished than survived, I’m sure, given the heat in the car as it sat idle for hours, but I hurt myself chuckling as the six hours home turned into a quest to find—and perhaps agitate—the bloodsuckers riding with me.  Even the morning after I arrived back in Dallas, two of them escaped into the garage as soon as I opened the door.

The threat of anemia notwithstanding, I enjoyed every minute of my stay on the Gulf Coast.  All things considered—oppressive heat and humidity included—it could not have been more invigorating or eye opening.  And though the critical drought strangling Texas left an indelible mark on the Aransas NWR, one that changed a predictable visit into one of troubling discovery, I wouldn’t swap the experience for anything.

So in these next few entries let me share with you two things: (1) thoughts and observations on the worrisome condition of this area, and (2) photographs showing the undeniable magic that is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

I already discussed the ongoing drought’s impact on Aransas.  Prior to gaining that knowledge, I arrived at dawn and felt certain the effects of Texas’s sorry condition somehow had been tempered in this place.  I drove through the gate and stopped to soak up the first signs of life within the reserve’s boundaries.  Perhaps all I feared had been for naught; perhaps Aransas had escaped so much of the devastation the lack of rain had caused elsewhere in the Lone Star State.

A white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) grazing (2009_05_16_018618)

A large herd of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) openly grazed in the shadows.  Like this doe, they focused on breakfast and ignored me.  I rolled down the passenger window and took some photographs.  Throughout my visit I saw more deer than anything else—including birds—and that’s when I realized how much things had changed.  The cervids moved about even through the hottest part of the day.  I suspect the dwindling food supply and lack of fresh water caused this change in normal behavior.

An American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) resting in a clearing (2009_05_16_018626)

Near Thomas Slough, an American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) perched comfortably where sunrise would soon drop a sixpence of sunlight.  About ten feet/three meters long, it remained stationary when I rounded the treeline yet vanished the moment I tried for a second picture[2].  This area showed the most damage from lack of fresh water.  What had been a lush, verdant, tropical environment showed more browns than greens, more dry earth than ponds.  Where numerous alligators once filled every bit of water and carved lasting paths through dirt and foliage, I saw only four of the reptiles across a wide area of the refuge.

A ittle blue heron (Egretta caerulea) in breeding plumage perched in a treetop (2009_05_16_018640)

Little blue herons (Egretta caerulea) had a respectable presence—unlike most other birds.  Aransas NWR boasts more than 400 bird species with a maximum count of 33 species in 15 minutes (mileage varies depending on time of year).  While I saw birds at every turn, the number of species and number of individuals appeared muted.  Significantly.  Let me put it this way: I’m more than a photographer when it comes to nature and rare is the time that anything goes unnoticed by me.  Thus has been my success at locating and photographing a variety of life that others never see.  Yet within the confines of Aransas’s borders, I saw and heard no more than 18 avian species.  An older couple birding the area met me at the observation tower with binoculars in hand and put it more succinctly: “Slim pickings.”  Indeed…

A lone greater angle-wing katydid (a.k.a. broad-winged katydid; Microcentrum rhombifolium) resting on a roadway (2009_05_16_018652)

A lone greater angle-wing katydid (a.k.a. broad-winged katydid; Microcentrum rhombifolium) fluttered onto the service drive as I wandered deeper into the refuge.  Insect numbers shocked me.  Cicadas were hard to find.  Few butterflies moved about where vast numbers could be seen in years past.  Wasps and hornets seemed nonexistent.  Even horse flies and midges had a limited presence.  Mosquitoes and deer flies notwithstanding, the lack of arthropods made the refuge feel abandoned.

A black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) marching along the drying edges of a slough as two blue-winged teal (Anas discors) drakes rest in the background (2009_05_16_018681)

A black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) marched along the drying edges of a slough as two blue-winged teal (Anas discors) drakes sat in what amounted to a mud puddle.  Wading and aquatic birds were all but gone.  Only two heron species could be found where more than half a dozen should be common.  I saw no spoonbills, storks, pelicans, bitterns, ibises or other regular inhabitants.  Only one species of duck and one species of plover made appearances, and I saw only one white-tailed hawk and one crested caracara.  I expected more grackles, cardinals and sparrows, and I saw no vireos, warblers, flycatchers or woodpeckers.  There were more terns and gulls at my hotel than at the refuge.  Black and turkey vultures, on the other hand, seemed plentiful.

A close-up of Texas pricklypear (a.k.a. Texas prickly pear, Nopal pricklypear, Lindheimer pricklypear; Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) with dry plants surrounding it (2009_05_16_018722)

Texas pricklypear (a.k.a. Texas prickly pear, Nopal pricklypear, Lindheimer pricklypear; Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri).  In many places it became a green boat floating on a sea of brown.  Cordgrass, bulrush and common reed all seemed stunted; for the first time in my life I saw Spanish dagger with wilted leaves.  The dwarf palmetto looked positively parched.  And so many trees remained barren and leafless, stark outlines made of empty promises.  Vast grasslands of mostly bluestem looked like raw kindling waiting for a match to set them ablaze.  Burn bans and the associated signs are ubiquitous.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] For the obvious question, the answer is simple: No, I don’t use insect repellent when in the field.  Our standard issue human smell causes enough problems on its own, let alone if it’s coupled with shampoo, soap, deodorant, laundry detergent, and whatever else we carry with us without realizing it.  But insect repellent is a whole different story.  The chemicals used to keep insects from landing create a noxious cloud of toxic fog that surrounds us and follows us and whistles on the wind at every opportunity.  If you want nature to shun you and retreat before you even realize an animal is around, wear insect repellent.  Oh, and it was too hot and too humid for an insect suit, so I played commando and suffered the beating.

[2] That problematic twig of bluestem bothered me, that brown stick rising up in the foreground across the alligator’s snout.  I’m no photography snob, mind you; I don’t think “technically perfect” images are the only presentable images.  Still, I wanted a second chance at the photo.  So ever so slowly I took one step to the left and began to kneel down, but I was within the alligator’s charge radius and its comfort zone.  Surprising it the first time was one thing; adding to that invasive injury the insult of more movement caused it to spin on its hind legs and slide down the hill into the swamp.  I wanted to kick myself.

[cross-posted to The Clade]

Meet Rosy

I met a stranger one morning.  I call her Rosy.  Some might call her The Plague or The Pestilence or more accurately, The Destroyer of Dawdlers.  Let me introduce you to her.

A close-up of a rosy wolfsnail (a.k.a. cannibal snail; Euglandina rosea) (2009_05_03_017028)

That’s Rosy’s look of consternation.  She displayed it each time I moved her.  Or when I got too close.  Or when I took a profile shot, something she hates because it makes her look translucent.  She thinks opaque is more her style.

Rosy’s a little tiger.  Actually, she’s more a wolf—a rosy wolfsnail (a.k.a. cannibal snail; Euglandina rosea).  She’s native around these parts.  In fact, she’s endemic from Latin America into Texas and east along the Gulf of Mexico to Florida.  She even has a minor presence from Georgia to North Carolina.

I discovered Rosy on my patio.  She was hunting these:

A tiny baby snail in the palm of my hand

No, she wasn’t hunting my hand.  Silly, silly people…  She was hunting the tiny baby snail I’m holding.  Several dozen of these minuscule mollusks had climbed my patio fence to seek shelter from the rising water created by severe storms.

As I investigated the scene, I found Rosy searching for prey at the bottom of the fence.  I promptly decided she needed her portrait taken.  So I fetched her from the damp earth and put her atop the wooden latticework where I could more easily snap a few images—or at least where I could take pictures without having to kneel under a tree during a thunderstorm.

A rosy wolfsnail (a.k.a. cannibal snail; Euglandina rosea) crawling along the edge of my patio fence (2009_05_03_017070)

Rosy happens to be a voracious predator.  She and her ilk have endangered and wiped out native snail species around the globe where she’s been introduced.  Why did we provide free first-class air travel to exotic locales, plenty to eat both on the way and upon arrival, and lots of siblings to play with once she reached her various destinations?  In feeble attempts to control the likewise introduced East African land snail (a.k.a. giant African land snail; Achatina fulica).  We humans are so daft, are we not?  That idea was akin to dowsing a fire with gasoline.

Like wolf spiders and their canine namesakes, she gets her moniker by actively chasing down and overcoming prey.  Obviously she’s chasing other snails, otherwise she’d be an evolutionary failure.  She moves at a snail’s pace while looking for clues that will lead her to lunch: the mucus trails left behind by snails and slugs.  Once she finds such a path, she no less than doubles her speed to catch up with the unsuspecting critters.  And under the best circumstances she moves five times faster than other snails.  She’s the hare to their tortoise, albeit one that remains painfully slow from our much larger vantage.

A rosy wolfsnail (a.k.a. cannibal snail; Euglandina rosea) climbing on top of another rosy wolfsnail (2009_05_03_017185)

Rosy is nicknamed the “cannibal snail” not only because she eats other snails, but because she has no problem eating her own species.  It’s common for hatchlings of her kind to seek out and consume smaller or slower siblings.  Late bloomers are toast.  But later in life she’s less inclined to eat her own and more inclined to mate with them.  You see, she’s a cross-fertilizing hermaphrodite: she can do the dirty with any other wolfsnail, and that can result in one or both individuals becoming pregnant.  Usually, though, the smaller one gives up the goods to the larger one and lets her play housewife on her own.

Rosy is an equal opportunity huntress: she takes out snails of any size.  She can manipulate larger snails into positions that allow her to nibble their tender bits, and her body shape empowers her to reach into their shells to fetch the next bite.  Yes, she does have a slender figure, does she not?  And unlike we humans, she maintains that figure no matter how much she eats.  (It’s okay to be jealous.)

But Rosy needs to consume snails whole if she’s to continue expanding her own domicile.  She metabolizes the homes of others and recycles the shell material for her personal building efforts.  Hence she failed to control the African snail she was introduced to kill.  To keep growing, she ate more of the smaller native snail species than she did the larger invaders.  Oops!

A rosy wolfsnail (a.k.a. cannibal snail; Euglandina rosea) crawling along my patio fence (2009_05_03_017155)

She’s been introduced in places like Hawai’i, Japan, Guam, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Bermuda and at least a dozen other places.  What a horrible mistake.  Instead of doing what we wanted her to do, Rosy set about causing the extinction of other snail species whilst pretty much ignoring the job description we’d laid out for her.  She can be rather contrary.

She’s also a prolific breeder.  Rosy can multiply her numbers up to five times more quickly than most of the snails she hunts.  Mind you, her own cannibalism somewhat tempers those numbers, but her adaptability and her proclivity to procreate at high volume means she’s a menace in ways our silly ape minds never imagined when we begged her to clean up the other messes we’d made.

Rosy can grow to be a large gal.  A few years ago I found one of her ancestors on my patio who was about five inches/12 centimeters long with a shell about three inches/seven centimeters long.  That version of Rosy later perished of a self-inflicted shell wound after falling off the patio wall.  Very unfortunate…

A rosy wolfsnail (a.k.a. cannibal snail; Euglandina rosea) crawling along the side of my patio fence (2009_05_03_017053)

After our little photo session, I let Rosy go.  Well, her and Rosy 2.0, the second wolfsnail that sneaked up on us while I was entranced by another shiny bauble that caught my eye.  (It was a mushroom, damn it, if you must know.  Like a ferret, I’m easily distracted by the next trinket, the next sparkly thing.  So sue me.)

Since Rosy and her kith and kin are native to my area, I felt no shame in releasing them so they could continue their search for breakfast.  Meanwhile, I grabbed a bit of puddle water and rubbed down the base of the fence.  To give the baby snails a chance.

— — — — — — — — — —

One thing that makes Rosy so unpopular is that she ranks #35 on the Top 100 List of Invasive Species.  She’s responsible for causing the extinction of all native tree snails in French Polynesia.  She’s also done in most of the native land snails in Hawai’i.  And that’s just two of the many places where she’s been introduced.

Rosy’s designation is that of a terrestrial snail.  While taxonomically that’s correct, no one told her about the limitation.  Fast on the ground, she’s also fast in the trees and underwater.  She didn’t exactly sit at the base of trees in French Polynesia tapping her pseudopod waiting for lunch to come to her.  She climbed those trees and ate the snails she was hunting.  Likewise, she has no problem following and consuming lunch below the surface of aquatic habitats.  Did I already mention she’s an equal-opportunity killer?

But even monsters like Rosy come from a place where they’re native, and destructive critters like her don’t lose their homeland beauty simply because we’ve let them loose in places where they promptly devastated the local ecosystem.  Remember this: She didn’t swim to Japan or Madagascar or Hawai’i, and neither did she hitch a ride to those places unbeknownst to us.  We took her there, along with a bunch of her friends and family, and we set her free.

Mind you, had I photographed her in any of the places where she’s wiped out or endangered a great many native species, the tone of this entry would have been a wee bit different.

[cross-posted to The Clade]

He falls sometimes

Black cat at night.  He moves with the stealth of a master predator, one painted with the color of darkness that makes him invisible after the sun falls below the horizon.

Yet something sees him, something large and traveling in a pack, something powerful and hungry.

The cat slinks across grass wet with dew, his movement silent, his steps meticulously planned and executed.

And still the coyotes look on, watch closely, coordinate their attack with whispers and glances few could notice.

Sans warning, a blur of dark coats move with suddenness that ensnares the feline in a trap, encircles him with fangs bared, surrounds him with snarls and growls.

There is nowhere to run.  Still he tries.

Then it’s done.  Held in the mouth of a canine, his skull and neck pierced, his jaw dislocated, the cat fights back with all the means at his disposal.

Claws stab the coyote’s face from all sides, blades kicking and scratching with a fierceness the large animal had not anticipated, could not foresee.

In a stroke of luck, pain overcomes the hunting instinct and the powerful jaws relax just enough for the cat to escape, to flee, to run up the nearest arboreal refuge where coyotes cannot follow.

But the damage is done…

Fiction?  Perhaps, at least to a small degree, although not entirely.

al-Zill lying on the floor in a pool of sunshine (2009_02_28_011184)

A fractured skull.  A jaw that doesn’t quite fit together.  A hairless scar above the shoulders.  A mind separated from body when it matters most.  And sometimes when it doesn’t matter at all.

al-Zill fights every moment in often feeble attempts to will his form into submission.

More often than not, he asks for that which his frame cannot provide.  Chasing his tail means smacking his head against the wall or falling off furniture.  Walking across the room can be successful…or not.  Even standing can prove difficult: he falls sometimes.  Not just falls, though.  Collapses.

A closeup of al-Zill (2009_02_28_011226)

Entwined with the innocence and mischief of youth, he gets up and keeps going.  His purr never wavers.  His ebullience never wanes.  And his spirit never gives up.

I see the battle in his face, at least from time to time.

A profile of al-Zill as he looks out the window (2009_03_01_011706)

Mostly I see an indomitable feline making the most of his life irrespective of the setbacks and failures.