Friday, December 1, 2017

For Lost Species Day, two species hanging on.

Yesterday was @LostSpeciesDay, which I didn't learn until late in the evening.  (Where is the official list of @days?)  I can, and do, mourn lost species, but I wanted to add a splash of hope, point out two extremely endangered species that are hanging on, perhaps are even on the way back, thanks in large part to the hard work of dedicated conservation biologists.

This is a story of the Bermuda Rock Lizard, which is a kind of skink, and the Cahow, a seabird.  It is a gadfly petrel, a group of about 35 species that nest on oceanic islands.  It is considered the second-rarest seabird in the world.

Image result for cahow

I met both in the 1990s when I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto. I was studying the skink genus Plestiodon, which was then still part of the bloated catch-all genus Eumeces.  Skinks, I'm sure you know, are mostly small- to medium-sized, slender, ground-dwelling lizards with shiny scales.  Many species have reduced or absent limbs.  I was using various techniques to break up Eumeces into smaller, related groups that would better reflect the evolutionary relationships among species.  Plestiodon, which contains most of the North American and East Asian species of what was once Eumeces was pretty clearly an independent evolutionary entity, hence the renaming.  One species that didn't quite fit though, was the Bermuda Rock Lizard, or Bermuda Skink, which shared the colour patterns, juvenile and adult, of its continental counterparts, but lacked several derived, defining features, particularly the pronounced sexual dimorphism between males and females. In continental and east Asian species, the males had broad skulls and powerful jaw musculature, presumed to be related to bloody territorial battles that decide breeding rights.

Bermuda Skinks are different.  The males and females are, externally, almost indistinguishable.  I discovered this among the towering shelves of pickled specimens in the herpetology collection at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.  I was examining individuals from as many species as were available in the collection, and was puzzled by the specimens of what was then called Eumeces longirostris, the Bermuda Skink.  I fanned out the lizards on a plastic tray.  You pretty much had to take a scalpel and peek inside, take a look at the gonads, to determine boy or girl.  There were other differences from the continental species too, particularly in the shape of the head.  Mainlanders had a typical skink head, flattened back to front and with a rounded nose, but the Bermudians had a gently tapered muzzle, like a Shetland sheepdog.  Bigger eyes too. 

I noticed that the Bermuda Skinks had been collected by the curatorial assistant in the NMNH Herpetology Department, the fellow who had helped me get set up in the collection.  I went to his office and asked him questions about the habits of the skinks in Bermuda.  Why didn't the males have expanded heads?  Didn't they fight?  He didn't know.  His visit to Bermuda had been brief, and he hadn't done much with the skinks apart from collecting them.  Ever helpful though, as curatorial assistants are, he gave me the name and address of a biologist in Bermuda.  "Ask him," he said.

So I wrote to Bermuda, to Dr. David Wingate, whom I had no knowledge of.

I got a letter back.  David, aside from being Bermuda's Conservation Officer, was an ornithologist, not a herpetologist, but was concerned about the skinks.  Their numbers on islands where they had previously been plentiful had diminished greatly.  I was welcome to come and try to figure out why.

It's only slightly better than a 2 hour flight from Toronto to Bermuda, which is the world's northernmost coral atoll.  The gulf stream keeps it warm, and its proximity to eastern North Armerica has influenced its flora and fauna, resulting in a mix of Carolinian and Caribbean.  There is only one extant native terrestrial vertebrate, the Bermuda Skink, known locally as the Bermuda Rock Lizard.

However, rather than being related closely to eastern North American species, the Bermuda Skink is a remnant of a more distantly-related line, now lost from that region, which may explain its differences in form and behaviour. I suspected this at the time, but had no means of testing it.  Since then, molecular studies have shown this to be the case (e.g., Brandley et al., 2010), that Bermuda has served as "an evolutionary life raft" for an ancient American, otherwise extinct, lineage. 

Off I went.

Hellooooo Bermuda Rock Lizards!

I became aware of Cahows not long after the plane landed. David Wingate met me at the airport.  He had told me over the phone to look for a grey-haired man with binoculars around his neck.  He wasn't hard to pick out.  As one person had told me, "He looks like Zeus."

From the airport we drove in a small pickup truck across the long and narrow causeway, along winding roads through golf courses, to a small concrete wharf, where we loaded my luggage into a Boston Whaler and headed off across Castle Harbour toward Nonsuch Island, which would be my home for the next six weeks.  

However, en route David asked if I wouldn't mind if he took a slight detour to check on a Cahow nest.


We crossed the harbour, which is bounded on one side by the airport, the other by a long peninsula and a scattering of smaller islands, the largest of which is Nonsuch, and continued into open water.  The water in the harbour had been a bit rough.  Outside was worse.  The boat yawed and pitched as David aimed at an almost barren, ragged rock.  He cut the engine near the rock, which was going up and down relative to us, and tossed an anchor over the back.   The chain clattered out.  Then, as we we drifted near, going up and down and also left and right, one of us feeling nauseous and about to lose his airplane lunch, David plucked up a rope and leapt from the boat, landing like Bugs Bunny escaping the plummeting plane, jumping up at the right moment and landing softly.  He used the rope to pull the boat closer.  I was supposed to jump out next.

I had expected Bermuda to be like the Florida Keys, sandy-smooth and flat as a pancake.  It wasn't.  It was grey knife-edges and petrified meringue pointing in all directions, interspersed with deadly gaps.

I took this picture later that day, a view from Nonsuch Island.

Somehow, eventually,  I managed to leap across and not die, and then, afterward, successfully return to the boat.  Some traumas get blotted out.  I later learned that the sea had been unusually rough that day, the remnants of a tropical storm.  

I also learned that Cahows were seabirds endemic to Bermuda that for more than 300 years had been believed to be extinct.  They were rediscovered when David was a teenager in the 1950s.  He had been part of the group responsible for their rediscovery.  At this time of year the adults were out at sea during daylight and would return after dark to feed their single chick, which was in a burrow deep in the rocks on one of the few islets in Bermuda that had not been overrun by humans and their associates (dogs, cats, rats).  At the nest, David had used a mirror on a pole to look deep into the burrow and around a corner to see how the chick was coming along.

Apparently he did this almost every day.  He knew the location of every Cahow nest in Bermuda and checked them all regularly, no matter how precarious their location.  He had been doing this for years, charting the breeding success of the species, enhancing their habitat, keeping rats and other predators at bay. 

David Wingate in the Whaler

For the next several weeks I trapped, measured and charted the distribution of skinks on Nonsuch Island.  

Measuring snout-vent length of a Bermuda Skink.

I discovered that very few were surviving the first few years, that the population consisted mostly of elderly lizards.  Something(s) was killing the young.  It was likely that introduced birds (Kiskadees) were a major culprit, but we later discovered that introduced Jamaican Anoles (another kind of lizard) also preyed on the hatchling skinks, and it seemed likely that the once extirpated, re-introduced Yellow-crowned Night-herons were also preying on skinks, including adults.

From daily conversations with David I learned a lot about Cahows.  Toward the end of my stay he was going out at night in the near pitch black to watch the fledgling birds emerge from the burrows and test their wings.  Once the chicks develop to a certain stage, the parents stop returning to feed them.  The young birds must leave their burrows on their own, or starve.  They do this progressively over a series of nights.  The youngsters emerge, walk around a bit and flap their wings.  Sometimes they find a rock or other higher feature on which to flap.  A nearby human sitting motionless will suffice.

One night several of us went along with David to watch a fledgling emerge on Horn Rock, which is the low-domed island in the top-center of the above image.  We pulled alongside in the dark, and by this time I was relatively competent in getting in and out of the Whaler at random, rocky spots.  We sat on mattresses that had been placed near the burrow and had been there for at least one good rain storm, and waited, silently, damply, listening to the sloshing of waves along the chaotic shore Eventually the bird appeared.  It was pigeon-sized, but with a relatively large head and a narrow, hooked bill.  It walked among us silently.  It had a fishy, oily odor.  It paused to flap its long, pointed wings.  It walked some more, and, if I am remembering correctly, climbed on the lap of someone and repeated its flapping routine from atop his knee, working to strengthen its flight muscles.  We remained silent, motionless and mesmerized, as if watching a sleepwalker, afraid to wake it, or a ghost.  It returned to its burrow, done for the night.  One of these nights it would take wing and fly out to sea, not to return until ready to breed in three to six years.

When I was in Bermuda, there were 40 to 45 breeding pairs of Cahows, which were all on the smaller, difficult as heck to visit islands. In recent years, Cahows have been encouraged to breed on much larger and more accessible Nonsuch Island, thanks to daring transfers of chicks to artificial burrows on that island, made necessary by damage to traditional nests on smaller islands during a series of hurricanes in the early 2000s. The first artificial burrows were made of concrete, and were back-breaking to create. Later, prefabricated plastic burrows--carefully shaped, plastic tunnels buried in the soil with a lid above the nest chamber that could be opened to examine both adults and chicks--were developed. Although he retired in 2000, David Wingate was instrumental in getting the burrows custom-designed for Cahows, and built. The person presently in charge of Cahow conservation, having taken over after David, is Jeremy Madeiros, who is about my age and was a recently-hired conservation officer when I first visited. We became good friends over the four summers I stayed on Nonsuch Island to study the skinks.

The 2016-2017 breeding season resulted in 117 breeding pairs of Cahows, producing a record total of 61 successfully fledged chicks. A complete account of the history of the bird's ongoing recovery, including a link to a live nest cam, is here. My old friend Jeremy is featured too. He is now Bermuda's Senior Terrestrial Conservation Officer.

To bring this full circle: The Cahow nest cam caught a Bermuda Skink checking out a Cahow nest. It is believed that prior to the arrival of humans on Bermuda, when the islands were thick with nesting seabirds, the skinks wandered from nest to nest, gobbling up whatever messy bits lay about (seabirds aren't particularly tidy.) The species had evolved to live together, one the food source, the other the waste removal engineer. Notice the skink flicking its tongue. They have a highly developed olfactory sense, which they use to find food. I caught them by baiting half-buried 1-litre pop bottles with sardines. Unfortunately, their sense of smell and love of stink also causes them to follow the scent of stale beer into discarded bottles, where they tend to perish before finding their way back out.

Skink in a pop bottle trap, next to a hunk of sardine.

Since my time on Nonsuch, others have continued studying populations of Bermuda Skinks on Nonsuch Island and in other localities, and have made advances in understanding their population genetics and life history. Some captive breeding has been carried out.

For both Bermuda Skinks and Cahows the future is looking a little brighter.

It was a real treat, on @LostSpeciesDay to come across the following video, a healthy adult skink in an active cahow nest (pre-egg, adults out feeding or courting).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Salmon - nitrogen bomb.

Yesterday, miraculously, our scheduled trip to the Fraser River Eagle Festival at Harrison Mills coincided with a break in the rain.  Today the weather throughout the region reverted to November.

Harrison Mills is at the confluence of the Harrison and Fraser Rivers, about 50 miles upstream from Vancouver.  Before joining the Fraser, the Harrison flows around the tip of a sandy peninsula, at Kilby Provincial Park.  In this picture, facing west, the river is flowing right to left around the point to meet the Fraser flowing west on its south side.  Notice the lumpules scattered along the shore.  The larger ones are the carcasses of chum salmon.

Back around the northern flank of the peninsula and a short distance upstream the Harrison  broadens and contains a silty delta known as the Chehalis Flats, created by deposits settling out from the inflowing Chehalis River and Weaver Creek, whose winding channels continue into the flats, producing a web of sand bars and channels.  Within the faster flowing watercourses, where the bottom is sufficiently gravelly, chum salmon spawn.  And here, on the flats, bald eagles feast, hundreds at a time.  

I took no eagle pictures.  I had only my phone to record the scene, and phone pictures of eagles would be sadly inadequate.  The following images from the Eagle Festival Flickr photostream show nicely what the birds looked like: Eagles on flatseagles in trees. 

Oblivious to bird and human, the salmon fulfill their biological imperative, having spent years at sea, swimming who knows where, surviving who knows what.  

After that? Struggle upstream into freshwater while undergoing dramatic alterations in form and physiology, spawn, and then die, but not easily.  Salmon have death throes too.

But that's just the start of things:

Bears and other large mammals drag salmon from streams up to 500 meters into the forest where the remains gradually decompose and act as fertilizer.  The elements in their tissues, and in the waste products produced by carnivores then become available to the ecosystem.

In Gwaii Haanas, Haida Gwaii, it was estimated that 3,611 salmon carcasses, 63% of an entire run, were transferred from the river into the surrounding forest by as few as 3 to 8 bears.

Eagle numbers and breeding success are correlated with the abundance of salmon carcasses left behind in spawning streams.

In some places the timing  and success of mink reproduction is related to the availability of salmon carcasses.

Coastal Alaskan Brown Bears obtain virtually all of their nitrogen and carbon from salmon.

Bottom-dwelling insects in salmon-bearing streams in interior BC obtained up to 60% of nitrogen content from salmon tissue.

      Vegetation near salmon streams contain significant amounts of marine-sourced nitrogen.

The more salmon in a run, the more nutrients available to the ecosystem, and the more productive it is.  This inevitably includes an increase in the invertebrate prey species that nourish developing larval salmon.

When a salmon stock diminishes all plant and animal species within their food web are to varying degrees impacted.  This includes salmon themselves, whose decaying carcasses influence the survival rates of future runs.

It's almost as if the ocean is the lungs, the rivers are the blood vessels, the forest is the living tissue, and the salmon are the corpuscles.  Unlike the circulatory system in a single animal, however, the fish only travel in one direction, and their vital cargo isn't oxygen, required for the fueling of life, but rather carbon, and, especially, nitrogen, elements essential for its construction.

Once you start to get salmon, you realize that we spend most of our lives in a bubble of remarkable ignorance, clueless of how the heck our world works and needs to keep working for the whole darn thing to stay alive.

Chum Salmon, blessed nitrogen bomb.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Pack o' smokes.

Remember cigarette packages?  Players, Kool, Dunhill, uh... Marlboro, Pall Mall....others I forget? 

Virginia Slims!

Remember them before the government (in Canada) mandated ugly boxes with images of diseased smokers' lungs and gums and whatever else on them? 

Remember ash trays?  Some of the glass ones where beautiful.  I remember ash trays on the end tables in my parents' house.  My parents didn't smoke, but many of their friends did. They could turn a pristine ash tray into a toxic haystack in a single visit.

Remember ashtrays and cigarette lighters in cars?

Remember sour, soggy, cigarette butts everywhere?  Swarming the curb at the Warden bus loop, or scattered, a flick away, between the tracks at Bloor and Yonge?  (Childhood Toronto ref.)

Recently I became interested in Chinese cigarette packages, in an admittedly dim-witted--Hey, there's a different one!--kind of way.  There are many people from Mainland China here, either recent immigrants or visitors, and the smoking culture over there is at a different stage from here, at least with regard to cigarette packaging. I have created a brief image gallery of empty Chinese cigarette boxes I have found.

Double Happiness was the first.  I recognized the characters right away, because they are usually on the wall behind the bride and groom at Chinese wedding banquets. That it was crushed flat on the road seemed poignant.

1956.  I don't know what else to call it.  It is very elegant.

This one, I think, shows one of the buildings from The Forbidden City.  This is a very pretty cigarette package, the picture not doing justice to its true colour.

I have no idea.  What is this character holding? A pie?  Roast turkey? A diseased lung?

Saturday, November 4, 2017


Steveston Harbour, looking a bit grim, as if something bad is afoot.
(So to speak.)

Steveson is a fishing village at the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser River.  It is now part of the City of Richmond, and is one of the oldest non-indigenous communities in British Columbia (and was inhabited by indigenous people prior to that).

It has a long history of fishing, especially salmon, and still is an important fishing port, a place to buy seafood right off the boat.

It's a tourist town too, but not to the degree of some seaside villages on the edges of large metropolitan areas.   It is still a vital part of the day to day lives of Richmond residents.  There are family restaurants and dental offices and a pub and banks, a bike shop, a fancy underwear store -- stuff that normal folks use.  Our dentist is on the main drag, which has a false-front, frontier town look, in a wood-sided building that was previously a fishing net sales and repair shop.

Steveston is also a common TV and movie filming location.  The ABC show Once Upon a Time was filmed here for the first six seasons, for which it was renamed Storybrooke, Maine.  That show has moved production to Seattle, but there's always something going on.  Those people dressed in black, drinking coffee, talking into walkie talkies, standing around--the endless list of names people--arrive, take over a block or dock or parking lot, and it's just the way things are.

Which can be annoying.  I was barred from walking down the dock last week by a couple of black-clad burlies.  Something was being filmed at the far end.

"What is it?" I asked, which rarely results in a satisfying answer. It is usually a pilot for something that, if produced, will be so far in the future that this conversation will have been forgotten,  or an episode of a show on a streaming service that you have to pay for.

But this time, it was another ABC show.  "Siren," the burly who was allowed to talk said.

"Oh," I said.

"About an invasion of mermaids, or something."


He shrugged, and then listened to a thing in his ear.  "Rolling," he said to the non-speaking burly.

I looked up "Siren" on IMDB.  It says, 

"In the mermaid-obsessed sea town of Bristol Cove, everyone's lives will change when actual mermaids come ashore, which soon causes a war."

Well this is going to make visits to the dentist more entertaining. 

But really.  How hard can it be to fight mermaids?  I would think they're relatively easy to outrun.  Leg-wise, they're more seal than sea lion.  You could just sort of hem them in with a few sheets of plywood.

Here is a pretty boat angling in to the dock.  I think she was about to be filmed.  Perhaps mermaids are about to flop onto her deck, and this is where the mer-attack is about to begin.

I hope Quint isn't drunk

Monday, August 7, 2017

Big orange sun.

It's been smurky (murky skies due to smoke) for five days.  The wildfires in British Columbia that have been burning for weeks are mostly hundreds of miles north of and inland from here, and their effects didn't reach the coast until the wind changed last week and started blowing westward. The following picture was taken two nights ago, 90 minutes before sunset.  Last night looked more or less the same, the sun an angry orange disk. At this time of day the sun should still be at a state where you wouldn't be able to pin down a colour, beyond "bright." It shouldn't look like a red-hot penny.

Our AQHI (Air Quality Health Index), a measure that includes fine particulate matter (particles 2.5 microns or less), ground level ozone and nitrogen dioxide, has reached as high as 7 out of 10.  Seven is bad, but other places have recently endured much worse. On Thursday, Kamloops, 170 miles northeast and near several major fires, was 49 out of 10, the greatest Spinal Tapping of any measurement system ever.  We, here, shouldn't really complain.  We haven't been evacuated, and our communities remain unscathed.

Nevertheless, this dingy sky is becoming tiresome. To illustrate present conditions:

Planes taking off from YVR (Vancouver) a few miles from our home, look like this at mid-day:

And on it goes. Every day the weather forecast from Environment Canada promises us sunshine tomorrow, but by the following morning it has turned, literally and iconographically, to smoke.

Here is what our August sky should look like:

Yes, sweet blue, and filled with large, fluttering butterflies.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone, or something along those lines.

Target was here, briefly.  It moved in, taking over many of the stores that had been Zellers, a Canadian discount chain, but its launch didn't go smoothly. As I understand it, they had difficulty adjusting their labeling and pricing system to metric measures and bilingualness, and opened with shelves lacking the range of inexpensive stuff Canadian cross-border shoppers could get at Targets short drives away. Target failed expectations, and shoppers pulled back, waiting for the company to find its feet, become the Tar-jet we had known.  It folded within a year.  Sigh.  Folks here really wanted it to succeed. 

The most conspicuous remains were the big red balls.  Outside each door, Target had cemented a pair of large, concrete, red-painted balls, one to the left, the other to the right.

At our local ex-Target, those balls have persisted, at least three pairs, in situ, until this week when one broke its bonds and went for a rumble through the parking lot.

Unfortunately, and metaphorically, lacking a long-term plan or guidance system, it ended up trapped within another, less conspicuous artifact of the lost retailer, a shopping cart return rack.  So there it languishes, waiting for the earth to tilt the other way.

These days, how many mall visitors even know what the big red balls mean?  The couple below, do they consider the ball before them and ponder its significance?  Do they notice its trundle-scuffed partner ensnared a hundred meters away?

Of course not.  They are blindly in love, unable to conceive of how awry a plan can go.

I met a traveller from an antique land, 
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal, these words appear: 
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Two wheels at a time.

It's good to have a bike.  When you're a kid, before you can drive, it gives you freedom. However, once you have your license, true freedom, it doesn't mean you want to rid yourself of your two-wheeler.  A bike is always useful.  It is healthy.  It is pure. Two clothes pegs and a hockey card--fun!

The only bikeless period of my life was when I was a graduate student in Toronto and lived in a small apartment downtown. There were subway entrances all over the place, allowing me to travel relatively easily underground, short or long distances. Pop down one hole, pop up from another.

I returned to surface life when I moved to California.  Public transit was okay, but I needed a bike for quick trips around the neighbourhood, or to the parking-starved campus and back.  After about a week, I went on a mission.  From  my sixplex in El Cerrito I walked to the main strip, San Pablo Avenue, and headed south.  I believed that, without checking the Yellowpages, which still existed but didn't come with the apartment, or asking a local, if I kept walking, I would find a bike store.  I would buy a bike, a helmet, and a lock, and I would ride home.  It was a good plan.

Eventually, before even a shadow of self-doubt crossed my mind, I came to El Cerrito Cycle.  See? Good plan. I walked in.  Within fifteen minutes, I was out for a test-ride.

The man in the bike store was suspicious of my Visa card, which was issued by a Canadian bank. I had to let him hold it while I was out on the bike.  He instructed me to ride on the trail beneath the BART track, which was just out back.  So I did.  After a few minutes I discovered that he was riding behind me, as if fearing I would head for the border, ha-ha, so long sucker.

He didn't really look like a bike-store worker, who should be young and fit, or older and sinewy from all those years of pedaling.  He was a bit heavy, and his knees poked out when he rode, like somebody's dad who hasn't ridden in twenty years.

I looped back past him and got to the store first.  I bought the bike.  Here it is:

It is a Catalina Park Pre. That likely means nothing to you.  It means next to nothing to me, except that those are the words written on my bike.  I rode my C-P-P, a few years of quick, reliable getting-around in the East Bay, and then moved to this province of rain and mountains, a very different, more challenging biking habitat.  I stopped riding.

Then I did maybe one of the worst things you can do to a bike.  I left it out on an apartment balcony, exposed to the elements.  The tires went flat.  The hand-grips dried and cracked, The rims and chain rusted. Shame on me. 

We eventually moved to Richmond, which is situated on a flat pan of silty, boggy land at sea level, at the mouth of the Fraser River.  It is ringed by dykes to keep the river and tides at bay.  It has a mild climate, with very few days of snow cover.  It is near perfect for biking.

Proof of that occurred during the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The speed-skating oval was (and still is) in Richmond, which meant that the Dutch would come.  They did, located their Olympic pavilion here, and brought their bikes. For those two weeks, you would see orange-clad people riding super-sturdy commuter bikes along the dykes.  What could be more Dutch?

By this time I had successfully and guiltily nursed C-P-P back to health, and had ridden it for a year or so before deciding to upgrade to something a little comfier.  I bought a Raleigh Sentinel, which had shock absorbers on the forks and seat post, and was a joy to ride.

Raleigh was a famous, venerable British brand.  They started making their bikes in Canada too, in Quebec.  I believe my bike was built there, not long before the brand was sold to a Dutch company, which would seem a good thing, but the vortex of globalization sent production to Viet Nam, using parts from who-knows-where.  Not the same bike.  Telling youngsters working in bike shops that I rode a Raleigh no longer even rated a shrug.

I rode the Raleigh for 15 years, including to work and back every day that wasn't snowy or icy.  I figure I racked up close to 40,000 Km, which is almost the circumference of the globe.

But wear and tear.  It happens to bike riders, and to their bikes. I replaced the tires at least three times, the seat twice, the handle bars once.  There is only so much you can replace on a bike and still have the same bike.  All that remained from the start were the frame and the drive train, and eventually they wore out too.  The forks splayed slightly, making it difficult to reinsert the wheels when changing tires.  The chain and sprockets wore down, and no matter how I fiddled with the cables, the gears kept slipping.  I could no longer suddenly pump hard to get through a yellow light or up a grade.  My pedaling became the equivalent of lily-dipping, which is a disparaging canoeing term for paddling weakly with only the tip of the paddle, not the entire blade, as if you are passing through water lilies and don't want to become mired.

I was slow.  It was becoming hazardous.

I had to let Raleigh go.

This week I started a new relationship.  A G-T Transeo 4.0.  I don't know what that means. Those are the words written on my bike.

Transeo has graceful lines and goes like the wind.  We are young again.  

Well, one of us is.

Dutch person and bike, taking in the view. They clearly enjoy each other's company.
 The Dutch-- a people who understand the bond between person and bike.