Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Bird in Hand...

The last (I hope!) of the cruel Winter winds blew this tiny hummingbird into a screen on the North side of our patio a few days ago. He was stuck fast by his tiny beak. I'm not sure how long the poor thing struggled to extricate himself from the screen that held him prisoner. I only wish that I could have found and freed him before it was too late.

A portion of our small veggie and herb garden is climbing high this year on the same arbor that framed our daughter's wedding ceremony on Pensacola Beach last year. Pea and thornless blackberry vines anchor the flimsy structure and provide a foreground for SAM, the perennial lawn care man.  

There is nothing flimsy about these structures under the arbor. They managed to hold up through weeks of wedding preparations as well as a strong sea breeze on that April day a year ago (note the ruffled hair on the sturdy female structure flanking the bride). The flowers and greenery framing them are fake, of course, but the smiles are real. 

We lost most of our tropical plants this past winter, including the palm tree that our former renter planted. It was never meant for this climate. Apparently, she (the renter) wasn't the gifted horticulturist she thought she was. The citrus trees that I planted, pink grapefruit and satsuma, all died as well. Apparently, I'm not the "Master Gardener" I thought I was. I think I'll snip a few leaves from Sweet Melissa (lemon balm) and slink off to make myself some tea. Maybe listen to some Allman Brothers' music too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Walk This Way on a Fat Tuesday


For nature, crescent, does not grow alone
In thews and bulk, but, as this temple waxes,
The inward service of the mind and soul
Grows wide withal.

(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene III)

Right about now, on this Fat Tuesday, the party day known as Mardi Gras is either reaching a feverish crescendo or winding down to a hungover whimper in cities along the Gulf Coast and in various other Catholic strongholds around the world.  I've never understood this headlong, headstrong, mad, crowd rush to feast and drink before a fast. It's not particularly beneficial to one's health and could actually harm someone who is serious about fasting. But then I don't imagine there are too many individuals caught up in the crescendo who flip the coin of feasting to reveal the need for fasting and its companion: Reflection.

I'm glad that I've reached the ripe old age where I have an excuse to escape the partying and parades and settle down with The Good Book, some Shakespeare, or a good blog like Cosmos English Writing Blog. My Japanese blogger friend knows a thing or two about taking a step back from the mad pace of life and finding the tenderness, the sweetness we often miss when we grow up, get caught up, and start to "grow wide withal."

One of my favorite places to turn back and wane my temple is Torreya State Park. We traveled from the west, when the weather was at its best, and took a chance to hike and camp there a few weeks ago. Daughter came, traveling from the east (she wouldn't miss it!) to grace SAM and me with a visit, toting her guitar and musical talent along to sing a song or two and maybe inspire...

A post about Torreya, a place to build a story, after hiking, whilst sitting around the fire.

One of several headstones found near a trail in Torreya State Park

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Cold Truth About Florida: Not Much Funnin' or Sunnin' This Winter (2014)

Winter Storm Leon's Ice Leans On The Pool Enclosure Last Night (I warm up by imagining Chihuly's Persian Ceiling covering the icy white canvas)
Once we recovered from the flu-like illness that plagued us for most of December, SAM and I headed south to the Florida Keys for some funnin' and sunnin', hoping to escape the cold air those Canadians keep sending our way...

Arctic blasts chase us as we wind our way down the west coast of Florida. We take our sweet time, stopping along the way at Crystal River (much too cold to swim with the manatees)...

Homosassa Springs...

Park Ranger tossing heads of lettuce (looks like Romaine) to manatees taking a "Spring Break" from the cold

and Naples (love the warm, indoor exhibits--Chihuly's Ceiling and other works--at The Baker Museum; "sorry, no cameras or other recording devices to be used inside")...

as well as various walking places along the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades.

We finally make it to the Keys where we enjoy a few days of sunny warmth, a fishing expedition with Cap'n Perry Scuderi among the mangrove islands...

Good eatin' size snapper and sea trout

and some mighty fine food at various local restaurants, including Lazy Days Restaurant, recommended by Cap'n Perry for its "you hook 'em, we cook 'em" preparation of fresh snapper.

Once we have our fill of fun and sun in the Keys (not really! I wanna go back!), we drive part way up the east coast to visit some of SAM's relatives. One of them, 97 now, seems to go on forever like the lady in Tom Petty's song. Her kids joke that she's determined to outlive them.

Sobered by the visit, yet somehow fortified or steeled by it too (remember the irascible someone from another trip?), we cross the state again. We stop in Clermont and find Lakeridge Winery, complete with a wonderful wine host (Doug) who breaks up the monotony of highway travel with his lighthearted banter. Who knew that wine (and its imbibers) could be so funny?

One of our last stops on the way home is Fanning Springs State Park. Though it is close to sunset, and the evening is predicted to be another cold one, we need a place to stretch our legs and use the "facilities" so we pay the entrance fee and take a short walk to the springs.

Once again, we find that the manatees have made their way inland to warm up for the night. I hope for their sake (and ours!) that this cold weather ends soon. Truth be told, most of Florida just ain't fit for much funnin' or sunnin' so far, this winter of 2014 :(

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Help Wanted: Special Delivery; No Heavy Lifting; Beautiful Feet Required

Jack Frost's Christmas Day handiwork on SAM's Dodge truck

It was quite chilly outside when I woke up this Christmas morning. The windshield on SAM's truck parked in the driveway became Jack Frost's canvas. Old Jack painted some interesting shapes for our enjoyment. Do you see the yin-yang heart figure at the bottom left corner of the glass? Then again, maybe it's not a heart shape. It could be that Old Jack was giving his backside a break from all the havoc he's been causing with my plants. Thanks a lot, Jack!

After a breakfast of sweet roll (recipe here), Havarti cheese, and strong coffee, I was ready for Christmas morn to begin. Wait, though. No stockings were hung by the chimney with care. No children or grandchildren were wiping the sleep from their eyes to find presents under the tree. It was just SAM and me present and accounted for this Christmas morn. It felt weird, I have to admit. Son and his family have moved back to Illinois. Daughter and her husband are spending Christmas with his parents. SAM and I are still recovering from a flu-like respiratory illness (stubbornly resisting going to the doctor). We've stayed home for the past nine days or so, trying not to infect anyone else if at all possible. Friends and neighbors know that we're sick so we've not had any visitors except for the package delivery people, God bless 'em. The Fed Ex man even brought a package this morning. Poor fellow, having to work on Christmas Day.

Peanut wonders if there will be any Christmas present for her?
Thinking about people who deliver things, I read a Christmas story that Charles Dickens wrote called The Chimes, in which a delivery man (known as a "porter" in Dickens' time) is charged with delivering more than a letter or a package. He falls into a reverie of sorts, is haunted by the spirits of the local church bells (sound somewhat familiar?), and encouraged (or rather scared witless) to change his sour attitude about life and his circumstances. Those footsteps have been followed before, I think, in other Dickens' stories and the like. They're amusing, I admit, but not life-changing.

 After finishing up Dickens' story this morning, I turned to another book that I've been neglecting, which could account for my own recent sour attitude about life and circumstances. I wish I'd looked into it sooner rather than later.

Now here is a present that doesn't need any special packaging. No cardboard, packing tape, or postage stamping is necessary. A few instructions for use, though, might come in handy for those not familiar with it or needing a refresher: "Handle with care"? Nope. No kid gloves necessary. "Do not immerse"? Well, that's not a bad idea after some use and much contemplation. How about "Take to heart on a daily basis and get those lovely feet in motion"? Yes! That's the ticket!

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
"Your God reigns!"
(Isaiah 52:7)  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

'Gone Girl': Reading Saudade for Gen-X in Landscape

Gone (v.) 1. past participle of go. --(adj.) 2. departed; left. 3. lost or hopeless. 4. ruined. 5. dead; deceased. 6. past. 7. weak and faint; a gone feeling. 8. used up. 9. Slang. a. pregnant: two months gone. b. great; outstanding. c. exhilarated; inspired. --Idiom. 10. far gone, in an advanced state as of love, exhaustion, or illness. 11. gone on, Informal, infatuated with; in love with.

Saudade (n.) A Portuguese and Galician word that has no direct translation into English. It describes a deep, melancholic longing for someone or something that is loved but is absent. A repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return tends to increase the nostalgia or melancholia.


After learning that Cape Girardeau, Missouri, was serving as the backdrop for filming part of Gillian Flynn's novel and screenplay Gone Girl, I decided to purchase the book and read it. I don't usually care for murder mysteries, especially when a husband is the prime suspect--too much of that sort of thing going on in real life--but I had heard from a reliable source that this one would surprise me. Boy, did it ever.

While someone else who has read this as well as Ms. Flynn's other novels recently gave me her opinion that the ending of this one was disturbing or unsatisfactory, I had just the opposite reaction. For some reason (maybe it's the gardener-in-me), the moment near the beginning when Nick Dunne (husband-suspect) comes home from The Bar (his business in a fictional Missouri town) to find his wife Amy missing, the mention of "red peonies along the border looking fat and juicy, asking to be devoured" stops me dead in my reading tracks. Why? Because when he wakes up that morning, it is to the glaring sun "revealing its full summer angry-god self." Peonies do not bloom in the middle of summer.

Green Lynx spider guarding her egg sac and babies

Naturally, I'm intrigued by this seemingly awkward intrusion of peonies on the scene. Is it just authorial or editorial ignorance or clumsiness? Ah. No, I don't think so. This is a New York Times bestseller, after all, carefully crafted and edited, and soon to be a major motion picture. Red peonies out of time, out of place are there for a reason.

Before the red peonies appear and the husband-suspect discovers his missing wife, before he gets out of bed that morning to face the glaring sun, he remembers what brought him back to his roots: the impending death of his "indomitable mother" with the expectation that his "nasty"-minded, "miserable"-hearted dad would soon follow suit. And if that weren't heart-string tugging enough, he has a twin sister, Margo or Go as he calls her, who needs his help caring for their parents.

A word of advice to the potential reader/movie-goer: Think critically. Don't be fooled and don't feel sorry. The main characters in this novel are Gen-X-ers, a generation caught in the throes of a midlife crisis.(A.O. Scott, a writer for the New York Times, established the presence of this phenomenon in an article published May 9, 2010.) Nick, Amy, Margo. They're all goners. They're over the hill and done (Dunne?) been sold down the river--unemployed--by dot-com washouts and various financial meltdowns. They have become Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. Their new-found poverty takes them from The Shiny Big Apple (New York City) to one of the unlucky buckles of the Rust Belt--Missouri....

When SAM and I were newly married and he was fresh out of college, back when the last of the Gen-X-ers were still toddling around and filling their diapers, we considered that we were relatively fortunate. We were debt-free (college tuition was cheap), one income was enough to pay the bills, and there were years ahead of us in which to work hard, have several children, save money for retirement, and eventually watch our many grandchildren grow up, in between long vacations to various far-flung, exotic places. New York City? Yep, maybe that too. It'd be nice to see what imagination can build with other people's money. The Rust Belt, though, would keep its grip on us for more than two decades while the dreams mentioned above slipped away. Life was a struggle, up and down, mostly down. But we stuck together and muddled through because that's what Rust-Belted Baby-Boomers are supposed to do....

Floodwall in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, overlooking the Mississippi River
The river that Life is takes its toll, I guess, on most people and their dreams. This past week saw the death of Nelson Mandela. As so many public figures have proclaimed, he has gone to a better place. His spirited fight against apartheid in South Africa was subdued by 27 years in prison--not vanquished, just subdued, but something else too. It was refined, like gold by fire, made brilliant like diamonds by heat and pressure. If he hadn't been caught and imprisoned, South Africa as a nation might have collapsed or been torn apart by a fiery uprising out of control.

With all of the media hoopla that has gone on surrounding his death, you can definitely sense saudade surrounding an iconic figure from a bygone era. According to a program I watched on PBS, Mandela belonged to a group of people bent on destroying the government of South Africa. His fellow political prisoners recall what life was like during those long years of waiting for change to happen. Theirs was a progressive movement, informed and inspired by communism. It was tired of the status quo and wanted change in a hurry, never mind the damage or loss of life. The river that Life is slowed them down, made them think, ponder, consider. Apartheid eventually crumbled, but the nation of South Africa remains intact. Blacks and whites alike mourn the man who is gone.

Now, going back to the book, Gone Girl. It has done a lot lately to "trouble the waters" of my mind. I guess that's what a well-written book is supposed to do. Now, I won't say that it's flawless, and I'm sure that a good critic can really pick it apart and expose the flaws. It's unsettling, maybe even disturbing, as my fellow reader mentioned at the beginning had decided. Isn't that what a well-written book is supposed to do? Unsettle. Disturb. Make you think, ponder, consider. Let's hope the movie does justice to its namesake.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Train Up a Child: In the Garden of the (Ferry's) Gods(mother)

Early Fall view of Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

The imagination that stretches farther than the eye can see, into the sediments that were laid down under heat and pressure and then fractured, now constantly eroded by time and the elements of nature, this imagination becomes fertile ground. SAM has just such an imagination, and he doesn't mind sharing some of it with Grandson (peeking over Grandpa's shoulder) on a sunny day in early October, sitting on a rock formation in the Garden of the Gods.

Where will this imagination take them and us (Son and I were along for the ride)? To the great Ohio River dividing two states, Illinois and Kentucky, the same river that carries raw materials for a great nation to build itself up can also carry currents of destruction.

Looking inside Cave-in-Rock

Storms of discontent grow the river into a wild, frothy, water-breathing dragon. It leaves its boundaries and carves a cave for pirates to hide in. They lie in wait for the next unsuspecting victim to come along, someone who will listen to a Grandma's story about a ferry...and its god-smother.

The ferry takes the family safely across the river this time, but it wasn't so lucky on one particular day. On that unlucky day, the ferry's chain that ties it up so that vehicles and their passengers can safely load and unload was broken by the weight of a dump truck carrying rocks from a nearby quarry. The steel from which the chain was made was imported from another country, one which didn't pay attention to quality but was only concerned with selling lots of chains. Now our ferry wasn't about to let a broken chain keep it from its appointed rounds, back and forth across the mighty Ohio River. So it calls on its god-smother.

"God-smother," says the Ferry. "You've been sitting in the backseat, breathing down everyone's neck on this trip and slobbering too. What do you suggest that I do?"

Well, the all-knowing god-smother thought for a while and then came up with a solution. "Use that thick, well-made, American rope to hold the two ends of the chain together. Tie them up nice and tight with one of those knots you learned in the Navy. And from now on, don't buy any more chains from that country that doesn't care about quality. Buy a chain made from good old-fashioned steel crafted right here in the U.S. Now let's get across this river and go to Marion, Kentucky, so I can show you one of the key ingredients for making that strong steel."

"Here it is, fluorspar, once mined in Illinois and Kentucky, now imported from that other country and showcased at the Clement Mineral Museum." The godsmother could have talked all day about the risks and benefits of imports to this nation's economy, but Grandson's attention span wouldn't stretch that far. Besides, he had lots of pretty rocks to admire and a grandpa nearby who could tell him all about them if he had any questions. And what little boy doesn't have questions?

The family left the museum, drove back to the river, and boarded the ferry once more for the trip over to Illinois. End of story? Not until this imagination runs out of ideas, and that won't happen...

...unless the rocks cry out.