But I Digress

Blog calendar: May 29 | May 25 | May 13 | May 4 | April 28

posted May 29

If a tree falls in the woods ... don't be under it

Talk about your bad day in the woods. Denis Berns of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was out filling his bag with morel mushrooms when he heard an awful sound through the wind, just a little snap.

A dead hickory tree blown down then landed on him, breaking vertabra and ribs and pinning him to the ground face first. He couldn't move, he said, or breathe.

He had to dig out around his face just to get some air, but it remained difficult to breathe with the weight of the tree crushing him into the ground.

Of all his bad luck, he was fortunate his friends were nearby. Yet it was 15 minutes before he was discovered. The two man had to use a branch as a lever and blocks to free him.

The incident has changed his life, Berns told the Gazette.com for this article. "Lying under that tree, I had time to do some praying and soul searching. I am going to go to church and do some other different things."

posted May 25

What killed me on my summer vacation

Just in time for summer, AOL offers some ideas how NOT to spend your vacation. Right alongside a travel story on America's must-see wonders is a report on, and I quote, "Deadliest Swim Vacations."

Basically, it's one of those looky here pieces, an attempt to come up with the most extreme things that can kill ya. It'a a collection of photos strung together with a paragraph on what makes each locale deadly with recommended survival strategies.

It's misnamed as nobody would really plan a swim vacation to these sites. Well, most sane people.

What it really boils down to is the types of dangers that could confront someone desparate to swim, and possibly the worst places for those specific dangers, though readers disagree with some of the content.

The first faux pas was the cottonmouth danger along the U.S. Gulf Coast. While the snakes possess a rather nasty venom and do hang around waterways, they are generally not aggressive and often have "dry" bites, not injecting any venom. They can bite underwater, though.

Around 1 percent of snake bite deaths in the U.S. come from this snake, also known as water moccasins. (Readers alerted AOL that their first shot at running a cottonmouth image was actually a banded water snake.)

The writer does hit on the variety of things that could befall the careless or unfortunate bather, and while it might seem alarmist, there are certain dangers we all should consider before diving in.

First on the list are the waters of Queensland, Australia, where venomous sea critters like box jellyfish, cone shells, scorpion fish and blue-ringed octopi make it a dip into danger.

Box jellyfish alerts force beach closures, and they are responsible for 100 to 200 (wow, that's a wide range) deaths each year.

Last December, an Australian girl suffered horrific injuries from a box jellyfish but survived, prompting a zoology professor to call her a "medical marvel."

One would not be so lucky to have a huge great white shark mistake you for a sea lion, but the article says that's the danger of hitting Bolinas Beach in northern California; The odds of being attacked by a shark there are higher than the normal 1 in 265 million.

Readers claim great whites cruise farther off the coast and others argued that New Smyrna Beach in Florida is the real "shark-bite capital of the world." It has more reported shark attacks than anywhere else in the world, according to the International Shark Attack File.

Please tell me no one has every planned a "swim" vacation to the Amazon basin, the next nasty venue. Besides piranha, the river has caimans, a cousin to the alligator, electric eels, giant snakes and fanged leeches. Yes, fanged leeches.

Probably scarier yet is the candiru, or toothpick fish, a parasitic little guy that latches on to the gills of a host fish and sucks out blood. Despite lurid anecdotes that it can climb urine streams and invade certain orifices (cringe!), there has only been one documented case of infestation.

A reader did comment that he along with many others have swam in the Amazon, and that attacks are rare, though the survival strategy of don't swim with an open wound is probably wise anywhere.

Microscopic open wounds would be inviting infection at Shired Island in Florida's Dixie Country, which ranked as the most polluted beach in 2009. Ailments that could come from such contaminated water include respiratory infections, meningitis, hepatitis and assorted gastrointestinal woes.

Amazingly, the beach is nowhere near any type of polluting development. Instead, it was found that bacteria present was the result of septic system leaks — Yuck! — and there have been bans and calls for more bans on septic tanks near waters that could flood.

Back to the big stuff, or shall we say, big crock.

The Nile River and its 500,000 crocodiles, which can grow to 20 feet and view humans as prey, makes the list, yet I doubt anyone would even venture into croc-infested waters.

"It's scorching. Man, that water looks cool ... pass."

The biggest critter the article claims you shouldn't swim with, or boat nearby, is the hippopotamus, which can grow to 3 tons and kill several hundred people a year in Africa, more than any other mammal.

"But they're so cute and cuddly, I just wanna go and hop on its back ... wow that's a big mouth ... never mind."

One reader says visitors don't even have such a chance. He had been to Kruger National Park and commented that there isn't an opportunity on the tours to get out and commune with these foul-tempered biguns.

Besides critters, another swimming danger that is real wherever water flows are riptides. Hanakapiai Beach on Hawaii's Kauai island might have the worst. The two-mile long beach which readers say is worth the hike to see has been deadly.

A sign warns of the currents and sudden waves and says 82 people have died there. One reader commenting gave his personal experience of escaping the riptide then learning of a young girl's death at the exact spot he almost lost his life.

If you don't know, never swim against the outflowing water, swim sideways until you get out of current. Or better yet, see if Rip Torn can give you a boat ride away from the riptide.

Ok, big finish.

Last but not least are Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border in southern Africa. Not like many of you will make it there, but the spectacular waterfall has Devil's Pool atop the precipice that the daring actually swim in.

There's a natural rock lip that creates a nice little swimming hole, where visitors have hung parts of their bodies over the 360-foot drop. Just don't go in rainy season — at least one person a year goes over, paying the ultimate price of living on the edge.

With a beautiful lodge near, it would make a great summer vacation ... if you came back to tell about it.

As for me, I think I'll just hang out at the nearest cement pond, thank you very much.

posted May 4

Gimme a box of bullets and 40 dozen bear claws

Not sure if is was bear claws, but a hunter with a carload of pastries used to lure in a trophy bear was found guilty of violating Pennsylvania game laws.

Known as the "pastry poacher," Charles Olsen of Wilkes-Barre must pay $6,800 of fines and lost his hunting privileges after he illegally baited and killed the largest bear in the state's three-day season last November.

Olsen drew the attention of Cory Bentzoni, an observant and suspicious wildlife officer, who threw up a red flag when he saw Olsen's pickup bed loaded down with doughnuts, breads and pastries. He might have been supplying for a cop convention, so Bentzoni might have reasoned that out thusly, 'Hey, why wasn't I invited?' But more likely, his sweet tooth fired up because it was right before bear season.

To Bentzoni, that "was like watching an individual go down a row of parked vehicles testing each handle to see if it were open."

In Pennsylvania, shooting a Yogi baited to a free pic-a-nic basket runs against fair-chase philosophy. Bentzoni gave bear check stations the heads up to keep on the lookout for Olsen if he brought in a fat one, and boy did he.

The 707-pound bear with an inordinate amount of fat — doughnuts are even bad for bears — would have been the icing on the cake had there not been a fly in the batter.

"The largest bear in the state was poached. A law abiding hunter could have had a trophy on his hands," Game Commission Supervisor Peter Sussenbach said for this story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But the worst part is the illegal feeding. Bears are very easy to habituate, to lure to some enticement. It's not good for the bears or people or hunters or anybody for this to happen."

So the state came down on Olsen like a 100-pound bag of powdered sugar, invoking a restitution penalty of $5,000 for the criminal loss of a trophy-class bear.

Ouch. That's a lot of bear claws.

posted April 28

Bloke has stroke for "River Monsters"

In the interest of being interesting, Jeremy Wade catches dinosaur fish. Armed to the nines, he casts his lines for huge freaks, gigantic prehistoric fish, and many with big, sharp, pointy teeth.

And he doesn't just catch them. Harping back on his grammar school teaching days, the biologist informs. He said he wants his Animal Planet series, "River Monsters," to be real adventures, sparking the wow in everyone while enticing imaginations for the outdoors.

Reached near hometown of Bristol, England — he was supposed to be in New York but couldn't travel because of the Iceland volcano ash cloud — he was asked what he thinks makes his show special.

"I think in particular, the fact that it attracts such a broad audience," he said. "It's not just a fishing program. A lot of children watch it. The dinosaurs, a monster thing with teeth, I think this is right up their street."

As the title suggests, he goes after the gargantuan, like the giant stingray, the largest freshwater fish on the planet that can grow to 1,200 pounds. He hits on the world's most dangerous catfish, from the Goonch, Kamba, Vunda and Wels, reported to grow to 10 feet and to have attacked humans.


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For the toothy species, he's done segments on piranha, snakehead, alligator gar and vampire fish, but the scariest fish he's caught is ... the envelope please ...

"Have to be the Goliath Tigerfish," he said. "They live in the Congo River Basin, can reach over 100, maybe 200 pounds. Crocodiles are scared of them. A serious fish to go after."

Just a glimpse at the maw of one of these nasty, bear-trap mouthed predators that can grow to 5 feet and you can't look away, even though you might want to.

"Heard a few times there if you're a man swimming, they've been known to take anything dangling," Wade said — oh, yes he did. "There's a story of a young girl with a waistband and shiny bottle cap ... couldn't track down to verify, but one took a bite out of her stomach and she bled to death."

So there really are river monsters.

Check out the photos and his page on Animal Planet.com. River Monsters airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Animal Planet, and shows reair on Wednesday at 8, 9 and 11 p.m. ET.

About the author: Mike Suchan has been editor at ESPNOutdoors.com the past three years. He's worked in journalism for 25 years, winning state and regional awards. Email him here.