Headaches

Headeaches are one of the most familiar aspects of my life. 

I’ve battled almost daily headaches for about three years now. They differ in severity, location, and length. Some would be considered migraines and others are not quite that severe. I also have a very high pain tolerance I’m told. 

It’s a battle that has become seemingly impossible to win. While that can be discouraging at times, I’ve truly learned to live with this pain.

People ask all the time how I’m doing and whether or not I have a migraine and I truly appreciate the care and concern that people have for me, however…I never feel like I can answer honestly.

I don’t want to be “babied”. I don’t want to be given special treatment because I have this problem diagnosed as “Chronic Migraines” (which really just means the doctors have no clue what the problem is so you just have to deal with it). 

The past few years have taught me to live life like a normal person. They have taught me that to let the pain control me will result in a life of defeat and, most likely, in perpetual laziness. 

I once heard someone suffering with chronic pain say, “If you have this, you have to be strong and if you aren’t yet, you will be.”

How accurate that statement is. You have to be strong in order to deal with chronic pain, whatever it may be. It isn’t easy. But you also cannot let it control you or else you will be miserable.

I go to work and have headaches, but I work anyway because I have to. That’s life, that’s how you survive, that’s what’s necessary. Regardless of the pain, I’ve learned to function in every day living. Why? Because I have to. 

Now that isn’t to say there are days where it is SO bad that I have to lay in bed and hope I can fall asleep and that waking up will result in less pain—those days happen. There have been days I’ve thought it would be better to be dead than feel the pain I feel, there have been days where I have hemorrhages in my eyes or where I vomit, there have been days where I just absolutely cannot function and no medication does anything to lessen the pain. Those days happen and there is no “being strong” and powering through it so you can live life. Nonetheless, there’s always the prospect of a new day, hopefully an easier day, offering new opportunity to continue on with living life to the full.

I hope this is an encouragement to others dealing with Chronic pain. You can do this. You can still live life, you can still succeed. It WILL be harder for you than most people, but you’re stronger than most people because you deal with chronic pain. 

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Kombucha: Beginnings

Another passion of mine, sort of going along with tea is a wonderful beverage called Kombucha. 
I plan on making a blog series about brewing Kombucha and the various different brews I have tried to create. 
Kombucha is a fermented, tea-based beverage that is often double-fermented to give it a carbonated-like character. 
I was first introduced to this extraordinary concoction while playing a board game called Power Grid around a table with some friends. I loved it but never realized it was something that I could buy in stores or so easily make by myself. 
About three years later, I realized it was something I could make relatively easily at home and something that costs about $5 a gallon (if that), plus about a $50 start up cost with no additional upkeep expenses, as opposed to a 16oz bottle for $4. After realizing that, I knew it was time to begin brewing for myself at home.
I found everything I needed on Amazon and purchased it and awaited its arrival.
More to come in the next post!

Fleshing Python Skins

Today I tell the tale of the process of prepping python skins for tanning. This process is called fleshing.

When you skin a snake, some of it’s flesh, fat, muscle, tissue, organs, et cetera remain attatched to the skin.

In order to properly tan a snake skin, all of these things must be completely removed from the skin. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy task and it’s quite messy.

What I’ve been doing in getting on my knees and scraping it off with a serated spoon (a grapfruit spoon). It’s not easy. It takes a lot of pressure, persistence, patience, and endurance. You also cannot be afraid to get a little dirty.

Scraping at flesh, pulling the sticky, slimy, and rubbery substance off, it’s what most would call disgusting. They’d be correct in describing it that way, but it’s all a part of the job. It’s absolutely necessary in order to create a skin suitable to tan and eventually fashion in to various items. 

I would post pictures, but that might be a little too graphic. I’ll contemplate it some more and maybe post some in a future post.

Thanks for reading! 

Michigan Adventures: Ives Road Fen Preserve

I spent three years in Michigan, part of which was spent attending college and part of which was spent interning and working.

During this time I had a myriad of adventures outdoors which involved hiking, catching reptiles (herping), bird watching, and star gazing. 

I hope to write on all of these adventures as I proceed with my blogging activities.

Seeing as I’ve written so much about snakes already, I am hesitant to write about my adventures searching for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Instead I will begin some of my other Michigan adventures. 

There’s a wonderful place in Michigan called Ives Road Fen Preserve. It’s a nature preserve with very limited public access. It has acres and acres of beautiful landscape from fen to prarie to woodland. The wildlife is tremendous. There are numerous species of birds such as Red Headed Woodpeckers, numerous reptiles and amphibians such as the rare Blanchard’s Cricket Frog and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, mammals such as river otter, and exquisite flowers and other plants.

It’s truly a wonderful place to visit. There are opportunities to volunteer on Saturdays which often involves invasive plant removal. 

Unfortunately, I found out about it toward the very end of my time in Michigan and only had a chance to really explore its depths on one occasion. 

That one occasion consisted of hiking over 18 miles through its varying landscapes. I found the Blanchard’s Cricket Frog which was one of my primary goals in visiting. 

I also found over 30 species of birds including a nesting pair of Prothonotary Warblers deep in the wooded section of the preserve. 

It’s easily in the top three places in Jackson/Washtenaw County. 

My adventure there took place on a Saturday in early May 2015. 

Here’s a list of what I found!

BIRDS:

Turkey

Goldfinch

Red-bellied woodpecker

Blue Jay

Tufted Titmouse

Hermit Thrush

Baltimore Oriole

Red Headed Woodpecker

Common Yellow Throat

Yellow Warbler

Rose Breasted Grossbeak

Eastern Kingbird

Robin

Grackle

Starling

Crow

Song Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Canada Goose

Wood Duck

Prothonotary Warbler

House Wren

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Eastern Toehee

Red-winged Black Bird

Tree Swallow

Kildeer

Solitary Sandpiper

Lesser Yellow Legs

Mourning Dove

Eastern Bluebird

Pileated Woodpecker

Turkey Vulture

Indigo Bunting

Cardinal

Belted Kingfisher

Chickadee

HERPS:

Blanchard’s Cricket Frog

Wood Frog

Midland Painted Turtle

Eastern Garter Snake

Brown Snake

Bullfrog

Eastern American Toad

Green Frog

It was truly a wonderful adventure which I would love to have the opportunity to do again one day.
I highly recommend visiting if you ever have the chance. Just make sure you contact someone and get permission first! Even better, volunteer on a Saturday! I certainly will be whenever I make it back to Michigan.

Python Challenge: Overview

Another missed day of blogging due to the busyness of life in the everglades with my family and the scarcity of cell phone service.
This weekend has been…different. 
I’m really not used to receiving a lot of attention and due to my success in the Python Challenge, it’s been a challenge to avoid attention. While I understand that publicity can be a good thing, I’m far more content knowing that I’m doing Florida and the Everglades a service and that I was able to thoroughly enjoy my time out in nature catching snakes, exploring the depths of animal diversity, insect majesty, and landscape splendor. 

Fame, popularity, attention…they’re really not me. I think, thus far, I’ve handled the attention well. I’ve willingly and joyfully answered reporters questions (both verbal interviews and e-mail interviews) not because I seek attenion but because I want people to know. I want people to know about invasive plants and animals. I want awareness. 
I deeply desire to preserve the beauty of the world for future generations whether that be the Everglades of Florida, the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, or any other unique and intricate ecosystem that this planet holds. 
Invasive species threaten that. The Burmese Python is one tiny star in the galaxy of invasive species that threaten delicate ecosystems worldwide. 
While it was truly a joy to be out in nature hunting for these incredible snakes who are truly fascinating, beautiful, and unique…they don’t belong in Florida. They belong in Southeast Asia. I truly hope they thrive for the duration of Earth’s existence, along with every other invasive species, but I hope they thrive in the environments where the ecosystem is balanced by them rather than destroyed by them. 
Every plant and animal is unique and beautiful. Every one deserve to continue to exist. However, when they end up where they don’t belong, people have the capability of attempting to eradicate them from those environments before they destroy those environments. It’s happening everywhere, not just in Florida. 
I did this challenge, mostly for fun. I didn’t want to kill a single python and I didn’t. I let the University of Florida do that in the most humane way possible. However, I also did this challenge because I do care about these fragile ecosystems and I want to see them thrive with native species rather than see invasive species potentially destroy native species.
The Python Challenge gave me an opportunity to do exactly that. I didn’t do it for attention or for money (though I certainly cannot complain about that aspect). I didn’t do it to have articles written about me or boost my ego. I didn’t expect to or plan to win (though I did hope to because the reward would certainly help pay the bills). I just expected to spend a month enjoying an adventure and having the opportunity to experience a new ecosystem, new people, and catch snakes—all while helping Florida raise awareness in their own state as well as nationally to the severity of the threat of invasive species. 
Florida’s problem is largely because people released animals they could no longer keep because they got too large or were unable to keep for any number or various reasons. Man created the problem man must now undo. This is how these problems begin and it’s almost impossible now to reverse the damage. 
I desperately hope we are able to learn to manage these problems and adapt to them in a way that preserves these delicate ecosystems. 
If my choosing to accept attention helps increase that awareness, I will accept it until it ends—as much as I really dislike the attention. 
I have a passion. That passion is for people, that passion is selfless. It’s a passion that says, “I want my children and future generations to be able to see the beauty of this earth in its unadultured state”. Though we’ve ruined that already, I truly hope we can work together to preserve what is left. My passion is to shift attention from myself and what I’ve “accomplished” to something far more important—preservation of the Earth’s beauty. 
I hope my journey, my story, has shown you my passion for nature, my love for catching snakes, and my desire to preserve the earth for those who will come after me. I hope that my passion becomes your passion. I hope you can feel free to contact me and say, “show me the beauty of nature, help me see the world how you see it”. I want to show others this passion and to help them find it for themselves. 
This earth is fragile, life is fragile. Let us not take any of it for granted.

Python Challenge: Skinning and Awards

Well, I missed writing yesterday but today I’ll tell you all about it!
I picked up my pythons from the University of Florida and then, since they were frozen had to wait for them to thaw. 
The next day, I began the adventure of skinning—something I had never done before.
This was a difficult process that took a lot of patience, time, and strength. Cutting through skin isn’t easy but even less easy is having to pull the skin off the flesh. 

  
By the end, many people in the campground I was skinning in had gathered round to watch and one man even helped! 
They had a lot of questions and were very excited for me.
Finally, all the snakes were skinned and the meat packaged to be shipped out to a buyer who sells exotic meat. 
The skins will be taken home where I will (hopefully) tan them myself and proceed from there to see what I’m going to do with them next whether that be selling or having someone fashion them in to cool items.

Now, for the part everyone has been waiting for: THE AWARDS CEREMONY.

This morning they held the awards ceremony where all the winners were announced. I hope the following pictures say it all:

   
   

More to come tomorrow, if I have service out here in the middle of the everglades.
   

   

Tea

Today I want to blog about my passion for hot beverages. 

I’m what some would call a “tea addict” or a “tea snob”. 

When I was ten, I visited Russia. It was an experience that I’ll likely touch on in the future. For now, all you need to know is that they serve you tea EVERYWHERE you go. This is where I first began to love tea.

When I came back to the states, I was disappointed because I couldn’t find tea that tasted anything like the tea in Russia. However, I continued enjoying tea nonetheless. 

By the time I reached college, I began to buy various herbs on-line and blend my own mixtures of tea. This was all loose-leaf, hand mixed, and it was full of countless varieties because I could combine any herbs in the world for entirely new tastes.

To be honest, it did become an addiction. At one point I was drinking over a gallon of hot tea every day. I had over 40 pounds of herbs in my dorm room at college. Yes, you read that right—over 40 pounds of herbs. 

I was an addict. I eventually tried to start a business selling tea. It didn’t ever take off but I didn’t really expect it to. 

My problem now is that people know of my love for tea and they often offer it to me. I can’t drink most tea nowadays though. All the store bought stuff disgusts me because it’s old, stale, and tastes awful (this is why I’m called a “tea snob”—probably for good reason). 

There’s just something inexplainable about the joy it brings to be able to smell, hold, and sample countless herbs, flowers, and tea leaves and then to mix them together, place them in a tea bag, and brew. It’s truly one of my favourite things to do though, unfortunately, I have far less time for it than I used to.

I eventually got to the point where I had different blends for different friends. They all had their favourites that I’d make whenever they came over to hang out. Something special and unique that only I could make for them. 

I also got to a point where different staff members at my college came to “inspect” and see what I had to make sure it wasn’t a room full of drugs I suppose. A few times it just resulted in them buying tea from me, so it all worked out for me! 

Anyway, that’s just a little bit about one of my hobbies and lays the ground work for any future posts I wish to write about tea and herbs. 

If you like tea and want to know what I have for sale, let me know!

Python Challenge: Part 6

The Python Challenge ended on February 14, 2016. At the start of that day I had captured a dozen pythons. 

It had been a long month up to this point and I was ready to give the last day all of the energy that I had left. 

It began around 9:30am on the levee I had found all but two of my pythons. It was a late start because I was waiting for the temperature to rise to about 60 degrees before starting. 

Eighteen miles of python territory lay ahead of me. I began the journey and went all eighteen miles without seeing a python. 

At the 18 mile point, a river runs across the levee. I tended to spend several minutes there to soak my head in the water to cool down and replenish some of my energy before turning around and heading back over the eighteen mile stretch I had just ridden. 

This is exactly what I did that day. 

As I headed back, only a couple hundred yards from the river, I spotted a python in some thinker vegetation but stretched straight out. My initial image of it only assured me of the fact is was a python. Once I stopped my bike and approached it I realized its size. I estimated eleven feet before going in to grab it. 

This one put up a decent fight, but I managed to rangle it without any harm, though it took some incredible speed and reflexes to be able to keep up with its constant attempts of freeing its head. It was succesful in doing so many times, but I was able to regain my hold by switching hands enough to keep it from injuring me.

This python even managed to ankle-cuff me, making it hard to move! Definitely an experience, that’s for sure!

This was the hardest python to get in the pillowcases I used to bag them. It fought me every step of the way. Eventually, it lost the battle and I managed to bag it.

Now…I had nearly 18 miles to go with this snake which turned out to be 12 feet in length. This time there was no help from the Miccosukee police officers either. My dad and I took turns balancing it in the same manner as we did the thirteen foot beast we had caught nearly two weeks before.

Here are some photos:

   

This was my Valentine’s Day prize. A monster of a female. A twelve foot dame. 

It was also an excellent way to close out the Python Challenge.
Thus concludes my adventurous tale. I hope you enjoyed every moment of it!

I will write another post after the awards ceremony this Saturday to tell you of the results!

There will also be nearly daily posts regarding miscellaneous topics and adventures from my past and present. 

Thanks for reading!

 

Python Challenge: Part 5

The date is February 2, 2016. 

The setting is southern Florida where the low is 73 degrees fahrenheit and the high 85 degrees. The sky is largely cloudless and the wind is seemingly non-existent. 

The levee that day was littered with alligators every couple hundred yards or so and you could hear them crash through the brush and in to the water as they sensed the quickly approaching bicycles. 

Fourteen miles down the trail, python one of the day was spotted. Because of the heat, which at this time was near 80, it immediately sought escape in the water. After leaping down the levee, I was unable to grab hold of its approximately nine foot body before it escaped in to the water. The first python (and only python) to escape me. 

After that encounter that left my left shin bleeding and bruised from some unknown object I must have landed on, my disposition was noticeably sullen.  That would have made python number ten. Double digits, a milestone, one python closer to securing the win. 

Continuing on, I went to the end of the levee, another four miles or so from where it escaped. At this point, my father was quite tired from the 18 mile ride and so I told him to wait there for me while I back-tracked in hopes that the python would go back to sun in the same or at least nearby area (though I knew the chances were slim). It didn’t. So I returned to my father and then we began the 18 mile return ride. 

Tired and still sullen, I knew we had a long way back and because of how hot it was, the chances of snakes still sunning seemed low. It was also hot, full sun, and tiring to have ride, for me, over 26 miles and still having 18 to go. 

On the way back, just over 11 miles left to go, my father ends up nearly running me off the levee for no aparent reason…I, flustered at his invasion of my side of the levee and nearly plummeting twenty feet off the edge in to brush and water, asked what he was doing. Unable to form coherent words, I managed to gather that he saw a python.

I dismounted from my bicycle and went to check it out. When I saw it, my first thought and the first words out of my mouth were, “That’s a thousand dollar snake!”. Because of this, there was NO way I was letting this one get away.

I began to approach, hoping this one didn’t decide to try to escape. As soon as I got close it lunged off the edge of the levee. 

See below for a poor quality photo of this: 

 
Because of its reaction to my presence, I had no choice but to leap off the levee after it. I managed to gain a hold of some portion of its massive body but it wasn’t happy. It kept trying to escape and I was trying to get closer to its head to avoid being bitten and to gain control. 

Eventually, I found myself in the water. Now pythons, when they are wet, become remarkably slippery. Thankfully I was aware of this from a prior catch were I pulled one out of the water and from previous times where they secreted a “musk” that, if it coats their bodies, makes them equally as slippery.

At this point, I practically had its body in a “head”-lock and I suppose it realized that escape was no longer an option. I saw it turn toward me and immediately I knew what was about to happen. I managed to turn my head to the right just before it landed the first strike—a bite across the left side of my face. The bite pierced my cheek, punctured my lip, and managed to get part of its jaw stuck in my neck. Painful, but easily masked and fogetten by the massive amounts of adrenaline pouring like Niagra Falls from my adrenal glands.

This, fortunately, gave me the opportunity I needed to get a hold of it right behind the head. I had to pull it from my neck because its attempts to release its grip failed. 

  
Finally, I had control. However, as I’ve encountered before, it used its massive body to force its head free of my hand. This time it landed a bite to my right forearm. 

  
Again, this gave me opportunity to reign in this massive beast and this time I emerged victorious. It was no longer able to free itself of my grasp.

At this point, I had to get it in to a pillowcase. I still don’t know how it managed to fit. After bagging it, there was still an 11 mile ride to get it back. Riding a bike with a 13+ foot and 100+ pound python is no easy task. 

Eventually, after 6 miles of riding with this mammoth (my father and I taking turns balancing it on our bike, holding it between our knees and balancing it with our elbows), we were fortunate to have the Miccosukee (a native-american tribe who had vehicular access to the levee) police, people we had made friends with earlier on in the competition, offer to drive it back for us—though we still had to ride the last five miles back on our bikes.

They left it at the check-in location for us and a little while later we arrived there to unbag it, turn it in, measure it, and get pictures!

   
   
Join me tomorrow for the final edition of my Python Challenge adventures where I will discuss the end of the trip and the final day (Valentine’s Day) python.

There will also be one more update revealing the results after they are announced at the award ceremony on the 27th of February.