1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Waits for No One in a Garden

...Being now at home again, and alone, the only person in the house awake, my thoughts are drawn back, by a fascination which I do not care to resist, to my own childhood. I begin to consider, what do we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days, by which we climbed to real life...
--from Charles Dickens' essay "A Christmas Tree," 1850--

Who better to question the various meanings and memories of Christmas than Charles Dickens? I think he surely laid the foundation for the way many of us celebrate the holiday today or at least expressed it better than anyone else. Elaborately decorated trees laden with glass baubles and homespun merriment, gifts covered with paper and ribbons tempting youngsters to sneak a peek, and calorie-studded feasts shared with loved ones and friends manage to hold their own even in these days of economic effeteness. Real life takes a back seat, if only for a day or two, when Christmas comes around. With a new job in Tallahassee driving us on to new and different experiences, SAM and I slowed the real-life pace last weekend on our visit to Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. It's one of those places I'm sure that we will revisit now and again.

...Oh, now all common things become uncommon and enchanted to me. All lamps are wonderful; all rings are talismans. Common flower-pots are full of treasure, with a little earth scattered on the top...
--from Dickens' essay, as above--

SAM gathers strength from weekend visits and so do I, seeing him in better spirits against such a massive backdrop. I wonder how many storms this live oak has weathered over the years to achieve this stature?

Yes, on every object that I recognize among those upper branches of my Christmas Tree, I see this fairy light! When I wake in bed, at daybreak, on the cold, dark, winter mornings, the white snow dimly beheld, outside, through the frost on the window-pane, I hear Dinarzade. "Sister, sister, if you are yet awake, I pray you finish the history of the Young King of the Black Islands." Scheherazade replies, "If my lord the Sultan will suffer me to live another day, sister, I will not only finish that, but tell you a more wonderful story yet." Then, the gracious Sultan goes out, giving no orders for the execution, and we all three breathe again.
--from Dickens' essay as above--

I wondered as we walked the brick pathways through the gardens: where did these variously crafted bricks come from, and why did they all end up in this garden? One search led me to a Tallahassee blog and a helpful lady who apparently likes to walk here too. There is a story behind every block laid down on these paths, and I'm glad someone thought it worthwhile to preserve them for visitors in need of a respite from real life.

One path leads to a secret garden enclosed by leafy walls. It's beautiful even at this time of year, planted with succulents and frost-tolerant flowers. At this time of year, before the peak of camellia and azalea season, you don't pay extra to visit the Maclay estate. Six dollars admits a car-ful of people to the park and includes admission to the gardens as well as access to picnic areas and miles-long trails through the woods. What a wonderful gift!

Like silvery Christmas tinsel in the sunlight, Spanish moss covers just about every tree in sight. You see much more of it here in Tallahassee than in the Pensacola area. The air plants apparently take a long time to recover from hurricane damage, which is obviously not as much of a limiting factor in this landlocked state capital. Of course, the ambient air quality could be a determining factor in its growth habit, as some researchers have suggested. Paper mills and chemical factories in the Pensacola area could be contributing to the epiphyte's relative scarcity there. If Tallahassee's air quality suffers at all, it's probably from an overabundance of hot air, as its main industry is politics. The resounding echoes of real life--The Waits, if you will--warning us to note the change in time--or changing times--seem to fade away into Camellia Christmas beauty in this garden.

But hark! The Waits are playing, and they break my childish sleep! What images do I associate with the Christmas music as I see them set forth on the Christmas tree? Known before all the others, keeping far apart from all the others, they gather round my little bed. An angel, speaking to a group of shepherds in a field; some travellers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger; a child in a spacious temple, talking with grave men; a solemn figure, with a mild and beautiful face, raising a dead girl by the hand; again, near a city gate, calling back the son of a widow, on his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking through the opened roof of a chamber where he sits, and letting down a sick person on a bed, with ropes; the same, in a tempest, walking on the water to a ship; again, on a sea-shore, teaching a great multitude; again, with a child upon his knee, and other children round; again, restoring sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, strength to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant; again, dying upon a Cross, watched by armed soldiers, a thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning to shake, and only one voice heard, 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do...'
--from Dickens' essay as above--

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Nature Notes--A Winter's Tale About Moe and Joe

What? Have I twice said well? When was 't before?
I prithee, tell me. Cram 's with praise and make 's
As fat as tame things. One good deed dying
Slaughters a thousand waiting upon that.
Our praises are our wages...
--from William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Act I, Scene 2--

Before I begin my story about Moe and Joe, I'll treat you with a sursum-corda look at my pink Gerbera daisies and one of our two baby pink grapefruit trees. They do tend to brighten up an otherwise fading-into-winter landscape here in Northwest Florida. Secret Aging Man picked our one grapefruit since this picture was taken a few days before the last full moon, and let me tell you, it was juicy but lip-puckering tart. If I were the kind of person who always says "I told you so," I would have reminded him that we had a discussion about the optimal time for picking the fruit. I'm learning to bite my tongue, though, about certain things. Most situations in life just aren't worth picking a fight, even if it does boost the old ego or enhance the mojo to take someone else down a notch or two. Secret Aging Man has endured enough ego deflation or mojo meltdown being unemployed this past year to last him a lifetime. It's still true, for better or worse, that a man's notion of self-worth is married to his ability to provide for his family. Thankfully, SAM's persistent, yearlong job search has paid off, and he's "moving forward"--have we had enough of that term yet?--with his career. Now I can tell Moe and Joe's story...

Every time I see a turtle now I think about a guy in Kentucky named Joe Sly--not his real surname--and his anniversary gift to his wife Moe. When I was favored with a glimpse of this box turtle, Terrapene carolina--not sure of the subspecies--several weeks ago as it crossed our back yard, my mind slipped back in time to old Joe and his odd turtle story. Secret Aging Man crossed paths with Joe when they both worked for an environmental consulting company in Paducah. SAM the geologist and Joe Sly the GeoProbe Guy worked as a team looking for subsurface contamination coming from leaking underground storage tanks. Back when state and federal funds for this kind of work just about grew on trees, in the mid 1990s, SAM had no trouble landing a job in Kentucky after selling his own environmental service company. Times were good for most Americans then as the nation's prosperity was kicked into high gear. Even Joe brought home a sizable paycheck for his labor with the GeoProbe, but his east Kentucky frugality never left him. One day while working on an out-of-town project near a lake, Joe spotted a huge snapping turtle in the water. Somehow he managed to wrestle the thing onto dry land without getting bitten and put it into a wide bucket. He took it back to his hotel room that evening and kept it alive in the bathtub for a few days until he could get it home to his wife. As the story goes, when he separated the animal from its shell, he found a gold ring stuck tightly around the proximal end of its tail. Since Joe's wedding anniversary was coming up, he considered himself doubly blessed. He was finally able to give Moe the real gold ring she'd never had as well as able to present her with some of the finest turtle meat ever to grace a table. We never got to meet Moe and hear her side of the story, so this might just be one of those Tall Tales that men at work tell each other to lighten the load.
For more posts this week about nature and the change of seasons, please visit

Thursday, December 3, 2009

'For There's a Kind of World Remaining Still'

...Let no man say, the world itself being dead,

'Tis labor lost to have discovered

The world's infirmities, since there is none

Alive to study this dissection;

For there's a kind of world remaining still,

Though she which did inanimate and fill

The world be gone, yet in this last long night,

Her ghost doth walk; that is, a glimmering light,

A faint, weak love of virtue and of good

Reflects from her on them which understood

Her worth; and though she have shut in all day,

The twilight of her memory doth stay;

Which, from the carcass of the old world free,

Creates a new world; and new creatures be

Produced: the matter and the stuff of this,

Her virtue, and the form our practice is;

And though to be thus elemented, arm

These creatures, from home-born intrinsic harm

(For all assumed unto this dignity

So many weedless Paradises be,

Which of themselves produce no venomous sin,

Except some foreign serpent bring it in),

Yet, because outward storms the strongest break,

And strength itself by confidence grows weak,

This new world may be safer, being told

The dangers and diseases of the old:

For with due temper men do then forgo

Or covet things, when they their true worth know...

(from John Donne's "An Anatomy of the World," 1611)

On our visit to Torreya State Park this past weekend, I must have remarked at least three times to SAM about the stillness of the place. We weren't the only people there, obviously, but when someone walked by, the silence swallowed up the sound of their footsteps and voices in a couple of minutes. Not even a Showy Rattlebox, Crotalaria spectabilis, found along one of the trails could disturb the peace. I figured it must have some sort of protective mechanism, as bright and pretty as it is, and it does. The pea-like pods it produces look tasty, but those toxic alkaloids can do a number on the digestive system. Therefore, it's no longer used as fodder for animals. Even so, herbalists have found a way to treat impetigo and scabies as well as intestinal worms and prevent wound infection using plant extracts. It's also used as a green manure crop and "nurse species" that nourishes the soil during reforestation.

Torreya Park has gained some renown as a botanical paradise, which stems from the diversity of its various habitats and plant species. Needle palms, Rhapidophyllum hystrix, not as prevalent in other areas of the park, must number in the hundreds if not thousands along one particular portion of a trail that begins and ends at the park's historic landmark, The Gregory House.

We were fortunate enough to finish up our walk in time for a park ranger guided tour of the house. Our guide, a nice young man named Rob, filled us in on some of the details about the home's original owner, Jason Gregory. Mr. G was a wealthy plantation owner once upon a time in this country when not all people enjoyed the same rights and expectations for happiness. He "employed" quite a few people to tend his crops, build his house, cook and clean for his family, and generally keep things at the plantation running smoothly.

After the War Between the States, Mr. G lost his fortune, and most of his family had perished from some sort of fever--I wasn't listening very closely to the guide to hear what it was. My ears did perk up when he started talking about Mr. G's daughter Atchafalaya, also known as Miss Chaffa. The only surviving child, she continued to live in the home as an adult and eventually died there in 1916. Rob the guide said she's reported to haunt the place. She moves things around, opens doors, and can even be heard playing the piano in the evening. While I was taking pictures of various objects in the home, Rob suggested that I inspect the photos later for anything out of the ordinary. I can't be certain, but there might be a rather elongated face peering out of the top left pane of glass in this bookcase. No one was standing in front of the case at the time, in case you were wondering.

I found Rob's description of the parlor to be enchanting. This room was used for courting, and the strange looking object on the table with the china around it is a courting candle. It could be adjusted by means of that metal spiral for a short or lengthy burn time, determined by how well a suitor was liked or accepted by the parents. The parents remained in the room to keep an eye on the young couple and prevent any shenanigans. I can't imagine that Daughter and the Gold Feller would accept this kind of arrangement.

A motionless sewing machine and cradle occupied one of the upstairs bedrooms. There was some movement in the room, besides the human kind, and it got to be kind of annoying. Millions of those beetles that resemble ladybugs--some kind of Asian beetle that's invaded--flew about and landed on the walls, the windows, the floor, and even on someone's head and down her shirt.

Our grandson has a rocking horse too. Instead of sitting quietly and waiting for him to make it move, though, it can rock at the push of a button and makes horse-like sounds. Not much is left to the imagination these days, not even toys.

The Gregory House as it stands today has an interesting "moving" story behind it. After the end of the Gregory dynasty, several other owners and squatters left it in a state of disrepair. I neglected to mention earlier that the house once stood on the opposite, much-lower-in-elevation side of the Apalachicola River that it overlooks now. Its final owner, the Neal Lumber Company, offered it to the Park Service. In 1935, members of the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, disassembled the house, ferried its pieces across the river, and reassembled it at its present location, where it has been gradually restored to its former glory. If Miss Chaffa does frequent the place, she ought to be thrilled that it's being well-taken care of. When I finally kick the bucket, I'd have many homesteads to choose from, just in case I get to revisit them. More than likely, you'd find me outside, walking the grounds, making sure my plants are tended.

All I can say is, woe to the people who neglect or abuse them. Miss Chaffa can see that her home and grounds are in excellent hands. She should be a happy ghost.

Torreya State Park gets its name from a rare tree, Torreya taxifolia, that used to thrive as large specimens here. After extensive harvesting--until the Forestry Service stepped in--and then a devastating fungal disease that attacked the survivors, these interesting trees now exist only as much smaller versions of their once towering ancestors. Maybe that Showy Rattlebox is nursing them back to health.