The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Above the tropical north Pacific waters, over a thousand miles west and a little north of the Hawaiian Island chain, a laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) wheels in the wind.  She is a large and beautiful [...]

Tennis Shoes and Ocean Gyres

The container ship Hansa Carrier was having a rough time of it. It was oh-dark-hundred on May 27th, 1990, and she was in the middle of the cold, cold waters of the North Pacific, 500 [...]

Black Jaguars and Colored Marbles

There is a gene knocking around in jaguars that turns about six percent of them completely black.  You may have known this.  People call them black panthers, but they’re really jaguars with a genetic condition [...]

The Secret Lives of Beaches

Why they come, why they go, and what sargassum means to them I’ve always thought it would be fun if we could radio-tag a grain of sand.  You just never know where the thing has [...]

The Journey of the Sargassum

There is a sea on the Planet Earth which has no shores.  It is over two million square miles in size, and it is completely distinct from its surrounding waters both oceanographically and ecologically.  It [...]

Fission, Fusion and Spider Monkeys

Our neighbor, Ken, was relaxing on his sofa recently when a monkey opened his sliding screen door and walked in. I once read a Dean Koontz horror novel that began exactly like that, and by [...]

Barracudas and Trans-sonic Jets

“Oh my God, he doesn’t see it…” Susan was saying to herself. The thing about snorkeling is that you’re always looking down, instead of forward.  But then I was twenty seconds away from learning several [...]

A Bad Day on the Yucatan

I picture a dinosaur standing on the coast of what would become the Yucatan Peninsula.  I always picture a brontosaurus, I’m not sure why, and in my mind’s eye she cranes her long neck back [...]

Finding the Monarchs

The entomological discovery of the century was made on January 2nd, 1975 by a textile engineer with no college degree.  His name was Kenneth Brugger, and his proudest professional accomplishment was inventing no-shrink underwear, which [...]

When Squids Fly

In this article I’m going to not tell you about cuttlefish. We had dinner with Dave, Nancy and their daughter Sidney last night, here on our Caribbean coastline in Mexico, and all of us were [...]

Absurd Beaks and Materials Engineers

My principal question was this:  When a toucan tries to fly, why doesn’t he end up planted in the ground like a lawn dart? And when I thought slightly more seriously about this, I realized [...]

A Well-Defended Tree

On the path that runs from Dave and Nancy’s back porch to the Yal Ku Lagoon there is a small, unassuming acacia tree.  I’ve brushed past it hundreds of times.  It is a perfectly ordinary [...]

A Beautiful and Devastating Fish

If I end up falling in love with the coral reef ecosystem, there’s a good chance I’ll get my heart broken.  It is so beautiful, so delicate, so complex, so exquisitely balanced—and under assault from [...]

The Baddest Act In the Jungle

Let’s just put it this way:  Crocodiles are one of their prey species. Jaguars are the baddest act in the jungle, and when there’s not an animal in your ecosystem who can take you down, [...]

Jellyfish and Formula One Race Cars

When you get stung by a jellyfish, you’ve just been harpooned by a projectile that was fired with an acceleration of 5.4 million G’s. Admit it, you didn’t know that. For years, jellyfish have been one [...]

Anti-grav Geckos

“That’s really a pretty cute trick,” I said to myself. What sort of surprised me was that I was saying anything to anyone at all, including myself.  Susan and I had just watched a World [...]

Iguana iguana

It sucks to be an iguana.  That's why they have that look on their faces.  If you’re an iguana, everyone just wants to eat you.  You’re a gentle vegetarian who wouldn’t harm a fly, but all [...]

Farewell to the Gray Coast

I love these woods when they're wet.  A thunderstorm crashed through last night, and the pine duff is soaked, drenched through, a glistening, springy, cinnamon-colored cushion as big as the whole forest.  My awareness reaches, [...]

Falcons With Mean Streaks

So picture this:  You’re a pigeon. You’re a pigeon and you’re whizzing along a hundred feet above an open area.  You’re whizzing along and you notice a speck in the sky two thousand feet above [...]

Ravens in the Service of the Crown

There are ravens in the Tower of London. Which may not sound that remarkable, but the reason it’s sort of weird is that ravens (Corvus corax) almost do not exist anywhere else in the British [...]

The Mind of the Crow

Well, happy holidays, friends, family and fellow naturephreaks!  I hope that you had a good one, and got out on a hike or two in this beautiful, bright winter weather we’ve been having. Good friend [...]

Yellow Jackets According to Yellow Jackets

  In a mixed conifer forest in the mid-elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, a yellow jacket wasp hovers an inch above the forest floor, fanning the pine needles with her downwash, shifting [...]

Yellow Jackets According to Us

When I headed out with the usual suspects that day for our usual lunchtime run, I didn’t expect to end up looking at a coworker’s naked buns, but that’s the way things worked out in [...]

Black Wingtips and Electric Breasts

I told Byron’s fiancé Roni, on a nice hike we went on the day after Thanksgiving, that large birds have black wingtips because black feathers are stronger.  I was pretty proud of myself—I thought this [...]

Pink Flamingos and Snowball Earth

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and to all my Indian friends, happy Diwali!  This year’s Ranger Randy research assignment from the Thanksgiving gathering of family and friends involved flamingos, and the Zen question of why pink flamingos are [...]

Hurricanes and Flying Palapas

When Hurricane Wilma hit Dave and Nancy’s Yucatan house in 2005, it hit it so squarely that afterwards all the phone poles north of town were on the ground pointing west, and all the phone [...]

The Wisdom of the Hive

When a column of marching army ants in Africa attacks a termite mound, remarkable things happen.  The termite queen, who is a helpless, blob-like egg-laying machine, is rolled and pulled into a special chamber by [...]


My nephew Ryan has my blood in his veins.  He’s an obsessed nature lover with a sense of curiosity that won’t leave him alone.  He captured this photograph near Bonny Doon, in central California, where [...]

Fort Ord National Monument

Something good happened this week.  With the stroke of a pen, President Obama, using the National Antiquities Act, turned the former Fort Ord, in Monterey, California, into a National Monument. It may not mean a [...]

Poets and Astrophysicists

“But a thighbone or so,” was how poet Robinson Jeffers put it.  That’s what he expected to be left of our great civilization a few thousand years from now.  Ed Abbey pictures us surviving, but [...]

The Wood-Wide Web

So a mushroom walks into a bar and the bartender says, “I’m sorry, we don’t serve mushrooms here,” and the mushroom says, “Aw, c’mon—I’m a fungi!” Admit it, it’s cute. Susan and I photographed this delightful [...]

Where the Buffalo No Longer Roam

Well, happy Thanksgiving to all!  Susan and I hosted it this year, and it seems that every time there is some such get-together, I come out of it with a Ranger Randy research assignment.  This [...]

Rattlesnakes, Little Brothers and Boy Scouts

Susan and I and our running buddies frequent an old Army base here in Monterey, California called Fort Ord, where there are numerous closed roads and lots of running trails where the firing ranges used to [...]

Oak Trees, Caissons and Clarion Calls

Recently Susan, myself and our running friends have noticed two things as we run the trails through the coastal scrub oak of our decommissioned military base here in Monterey, California:  All the oak trees are bare, [...]

Mountain Lions, Forest Fires and 73-Year-Old Women

What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened in your house at night?  Our 73-year-old neighbor in Big Sur, California was lying in bed reading at 11:30, and she had just dozed off when a mountain lion [...]

Pyramids, Sacred Birds and Recovering Musicians

Susan and I have spent some time on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and the Maya ruins around there are wonderful places to haunt.  If you visit the ruin called Chichen Itza and hire a [...]

Birds, Magnetite and Unkind Scientists

Okay, I decided this warranted a Ranger Randy article.  I had origionally only emailed it to a few of my more hard-core friends, because it gets technical, but everyone loved it, so what the hey, here [...]

Mockingbirds, Music and Soliciting Sexual Advances

Okay, spring is officially here.  A few days ago, and all at once, the mockingbirds started singing. Mockingbirds are the most spectacular vocalists in the bird world, at least here in North America.  They are [...]

The Great Lightning Bolt Debate

A couple of weeks ago, after a Saturday thunderstorm, our running buddy Kate told me on a run that it had “sparked” a family debate about whether lightning strikes upward, or downward.  (I didn’t know [...]

Ghost Crabs and Tequila

Take a look at this guy.  Isn’t he a cutie?  Especially for the most ferocious predator in the sandy beach habitat? He’s called a ghost crab.  They’re called that because they’re exactly the color of the [...]

Ladybugs and Other Nasty-Tasting Things

Susan and I live in California in a redwood forest, in a land called Big Sur (some of the time--we're kind of disorganized and move around a lot).  One of several magical things about our property [...]

Rock, Snow, Water, Sky

From out of nowhere, two lives, Sudden, like lightning, like budburst,             They explode together Inevitable, like rock, like wind, they entwine,             Twin elements in some universe   Now, on the top of everything [...]

The Cortez Commitment

The author discovers that crossing the Sea of Cortez by ocean kayak is about faith, commitment--and pain Originally published in Sea Kayaker Magazine, February 1997 edition. Copyright © 1997 Randy Fry.   “So you’re going to [...]

Junkies, Homelessness and Joy To The World

“Leave the planet, that’s what!” The retort is barbed, I know, but I have a record for being cranky on this subject, and besides, how many good answers are there to a question like, “What [...]

Life, Death and Unbalanced Christians

“FTP, Bro’,” my brother Byron said to me over the phone in my motel room two nights ago in Santa Barbara.  The miles had been slow and disturbing on southbound Highway 101 on my way [...]

A Brief Memoir

The first and last chapter of the memoir I'll never write   Prologue June, 1994 The invisible reader of this absolutely confidential journal may not know or care that there is still argument about the [...]