Ringtails Stole My Riverboat

and other mostly true stories from a lifetime of
blindly fortunate personal escapades

stories and photographs by Willis Greiner



This book is a collection of stories. Stories gathered from a lifetime of adventures in the wild (Outdoor Experiences, pages 8-48), tales describing a group of Entertaining Life Encounters (pages 49-74), essays chronicling my experiences with Music (pages 75-120), and conclusions rendered from an eccentric imagination and a deeply personal relationship with the cosmos. (Origin Stories, pages 121-143).

I've spent more than a little time outdoors, often stupidly attempting activities I had no right to live through. But somehow I survived. And, with quite a little luck, I've also had some great (if bizarre) random life encounters. I've always truly loved music, and although I tried (with no authentic skill or success) to play with others in bands, mostly I've just been a captivated listener. I DID have a marvelous time as a DJ in college and remarkably was involved with a groundbreaking radio station. And, of course, all my life I have enjoyed and been a sometimes-active participant in all things astronomical -- this avocation does very much render a contemplation of life's Origin Stories.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote -- "When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archaeological dig. I was talking to one of the archaeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of 'getting to know you,' questions you ask young people: 'Do you play sports? What's your favorite subject?' And I told him, 'No, I don't play any sports. I do theater; I'm in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.' And he went 'WOW, That's amazing!' And I said, 'Oh no, but I'm not any good at ANY of them.'

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: 'I don't think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you've got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.'

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn't been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them."


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Author's Notes

There are so many stories. So what's NOT included?

The Outdoor section was perhaps the most difficult to cull.

I have been fortunate to have dozens of possible story-worthy experiences, so I've winnowed out many, mostly due to their non-lengthy and hence non-essay-worthy immediacy. For instance, every rafting river flip (I've personally had three, in over 40 years of boating) has significance and could result in a story.

But generally (always in my case), they are merely user-error mistakes, followed by a quick and uneventful rescue. Yet, in one instance, I found a particular flip to be almost enjoyable and stupidly predictable if a bit problematic, whereas my passenger, to this day, describes the event as the "worst experience of her life." I am regretful she feels this way, but continue to respectfully disagree with her assessment of the episode.

That characterization reminds me of another such experience of a customer of one of the paint stores I worked in (with Jerry P., see the "Missouri Mountain" essay in the Outdoor section). It went like this:

"I am completely upset! You (speaking to the manager of a very-high-end paint retail outlet) have mismatched this paint for my dog's house. This has been the worst experience of my life."

The manager, after reviewing the mismatched paint, and instructing one of us to rematch it at no additional cost to the customer, then respectfully if somewhat sarcastically stated:

"Lady, if this was the worst experience of your life, then you should be thankful that you have been blessed with an exceptionally fortunate life."

There was that time in Vic Falls township, Zimbabwe, when Cheryl and I signed up for a "volunteer" (note quotes, we paid dearly for the day) experience with an outfit that claimed to be an African lion rescue, rehab, and education center. When we arrived, we were greeted with an informative full hour of creative video-enhanced money-grubbing before the main event. That involved all the "volunteers" walking out on the wilderness plateau accompanied by sub-adult lions! True, we had personal protection -- little sticks that the guides had made for us. We couldn't have staved off a raven or bunny with such a device. Luckily, the chief guide also had a large gun.

We walked with the two completely untethered sub-adult lions for perhaps forty minutes and were even persuaded to touch and pet the wild felines while the staff photographer snapped some portraits. "Don't approach them from the rear," one of the guides cautioned. We were offered afterward (for a fee, a must buy!) a video of the entire production, much like videos taken of participating divers during my week at the remote scuba-diving haven of Sipadan, Malaysia.

Except that there was no touching of turtles, sharks, and lionfish.

I pondered what would have happened if the lions saw some wild antelope prey and went chasing. Which, it turned out, they DID! Our little hike ended soon after that somewhat predictable event. One wonders how they managed to collect the lions?

The other "half-day-volunteers" went on their way, but we had signed up for a full eight hours of education and entertainment. Our handler was basically told to deal with us -- we guessed that they had never before had anyone sign up to "volunteer" for an entire day.

Much of the rest of the time, we fashioned toys for the baby lions, of which there were several, housed in large open-air cages. We went into their enclosures while our handler instructed us from outside, and we played with the wild felines like you might with a house cat. Cheryl was savagely bitten/scratched by one and drew blood, likely at an innocent, playful moment.

Nevertheless, these WERE lions, after all.

After a full day of "fun," including visiting an orphanage where our hosts implored us to donate some cash, the handler drove us back to our repurposed-from-a-hunting-lodge B&B in "downtown" Victoria Falls. Along the way, I asked him if he felt the operation was on the up-and-up; his sincere answer was that they provided employment.

One other rather significant and storied Outdoor event occurred when Cheryl and I were on one of our multiple trips to Central America.

We had toured several remote Maya ruins in Mexico and Guatemala and were ending our experience at the beautiful and very remote Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize. We could not rent a sufficient vehicle (the only one the local airport agency could offer had a flat tire and no spare). Instead, rental agent Gloria offered to allow her to drive us to our destination. After a side trip to check up on her son (we did see exactly how a typical resident lives), we encountered a roadblock created in response to the Central American countries' leaders having a drug conference at a local hotel.

Gloria noted that instead of limiting the access to dangerous narcotics, she figured that they were plotting a way to profit from the products. Further, Gloria got into a heated and profanity-laced "discussion" at the roadblock with a locked-and-loaded-with-automatic-weapon guard. We ducked down in the back seat, but somehow she prevailed, and we continued to the wildfire sanctuary, at a distance of some fifty kilometers.

Once we arrived, we took a not-so-refreshing shower at our little shack and then explored the place, which sported a rare Jabiru stork population and a group of howler monkeys (photo, page 144).

The next day, Gloria picked us up and delivered us to the international airport without incident.

Several weeks passed. One day Cheryl, not a person who exudes much emotion, called me frantically, noting that "something popped" on/in her head and blood was streaming down. I suggested that she NOT wash the area but instead go immediately to the doctor.

The doctor, upon reviewing Cheryl's scalp, left the room, came back with a Petri collection dish, and retrieved something from Cheryl's scalp. She left the room again for a moment; she then returned to wash the affected area. She consoled and sent Cheryl home.

Later, in a follow-up visit, the doctor noted that she had received the lab results from DC. She had collected a just-hatched botfly larva; obtained likely from the pond water we used for our showers several weeks previously. It turns out that this botfly egg laying process is a typical malady for "hairy" humans of the wilderness tropics -- most resident tribes have developed strategies to avoid this unfortunate yet common possibility.

Privately, and at the grocery store some months later, the doc confided that it was the "grossest thing I have ever seen."

Although several white-water river stories are included, I wasn't able to include the black-bear-walking-around-the-Center-of-the-Universe-Camp-sniffing-all-of-our-pleasantly-asleep-selves, late into the night. Just too short, too immediate (photo, page 144).

And I still remember and tell the story of our first (of literally dozens) winter camping cross-country ski experiences. All were eventful, some possibly death-defying. But to wake up eight or so miles from the Wild Basin trailhead and near our destination of the 10,675 foot Thunder Lake with two feet of new snow masking any semblance of the approach trail, no previous winter camping experience to guide us, and frankly no real downhill ski experience lugging heavy packs and on those old wooden skis -- that's frightening. We did survive, but no legit essay exists because of an unfortunate failing memory and a lack of notes.

And then there was another time in Rocky Mountain National Park when I paused after skiing halfway up a steep hill, and in gale-force winds, utterly exhausted; I finally just stopped to stand and rest. Within minutes the drifting snow was above my knees, almost up to my waist. I became dizzy and disoriented. I really did think that it was "game over." But, with encouragement and support from the other adventurers, I recovered; the group proceeded to nearby Black Lake and miraculously located a previously-made snow cave we had just become aware of during our ascent. Its existence and use saved our lives.

Of Life Events, two unmentioned visits to local watering holes are significant enough for consideration. One occurred on a trip in 1986 down to Big Bend National Park to view Halley's Comet (see the Origin Stories section for more on the comet). After walking across the very shallow Rio Grande, a friend and I mounted our dignified steeds (burros) and sped off (ambled slowly and methodically) to the little Mexican village of Boquillas. After arriving, we settled down for "several" cocktails in a dirt-floored cantina. We admired various "artifacts" (my friend pointed out and loudly described the wildly pornographic items) displayed below the 19th century mirror and deluded ourselves into believing we were Clint Eastwood. We proceeded to plot our rogue escape (on said steeds and into the remote Chihuahuan desert) from our wives and families. That didn't come to pass, but the two of us remember the story to this day.

And one other local lounge Music memory was a particularly unique affair that occurred on the deserted opposite-to-the-diving-side of tropical Cozumel. When entering a small dirt-floored gin-mill, Cheryl and I noticed a large picture of Bob Marley behind the bar, not uncommon in that neck of the woods. I leaned with faux-familiarity on the counter and ordered some drinks.

"Nice shot of Marley -- I'm not sure I've ever seen that photo before."

"Yeah, we took it last New Years' Eve. He plays here every year, mon."

Respectfully, "Really, I thought he had passed away." (He had, many years previously.)

"Oh no, mon; absolutely not. In fact, he's playing here again this New Year's Eve," the dread-locked barkeep said quite emphatically.

"How can that be?"

"Because he plays here EVERY New Years' Eve," again emphatically. (I believe him.)


Comet Neowise rising

"Comet NEOWISE Rising" -- 07/12/20 from El Prado, NM -- ~04:45 A.M. Note bright Venus in the Hyades, and the Pleiades cluster above.
The comet is just below the constellation of Auriga, featuring first-magnitude star Capella.
It is mid-summer dawn over the Sangre de Cristo range as seen from our home in northern New Mexico.


"About 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system was only a disk of gas and dust surrounding the sun. Through their minuscule gravitational pull, those particles slowly came together and formed clumps that grew larger as they collided, eventually building asteroids, comets, and planets.

After about 100 million years of countless collisions, the Earth was born.

For the first few hundred million years of Earth's existence, asteroids and comets bombarded the young planet. While a collision with such a space rock could have wiped out life on Earth later (like the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs), these early collisions were critical for life to develop on Earth.

The impacts brought to Earth the most crucial ingredient for life: water." -- from space.com/


"Comets have this peculiar duality whereby they first brought the building blocks of life to Earth some 3.8 billion years ago, and subsequent cometary collisions may have wiped out many of the developing life forms, allowing only the most adaptable species to evolve further. It now seems likely that a comet or asteroid struck near the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico some 65 million years ago and caused a massive extinction of more than 75% of the Earth's living organisms, including the dinosaurs.

At the time, the mammals were small burrowing creatures that seemed to survive the catastrophic impact without too much difficulty. Because many of their larger competitors were destroyed, these mammals flourished.

Since we humans evolved from these primitive mammals, we may owe our current preeminence atop Earth's food chain to collisions of comets and asteroids with the Earth."
-- from https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/about/life_on_earth.html


Please click this text to access the Endnotes/Pertinent Links section of the book, this enlarged version also appearing on the included DVD.


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[all photographic and narrative content © Willis Greiner Photography, 2021