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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kristin Hannah's 'Winter Garden'--Breaking the Ice of Silence

In Kristin Hannah's Winter Garden, silence is as much a part of the landscape as its dormant apple trees and "whitened landscape [that] caused a kind of winter blindness." Silence threatens to split a family apart when its patriarch succumbs to heart disease early in the story. The two adult daughters and their elderly mother who are left with an orchard business and each other to care for discover that leaving things left unspoken can have lasting if not tragic consequences. Heart disease, indeed.

 Meredith, the oldest of the two sisters, discovers early on--at the age of 12--"the empty spaces that gathered between people." Family members can live together for years and not know each other. What does it take for a tragedy like that to be averted or at least mitigated? The telling of a story--one that begins as a fairy tale and ends as a family history. That fairy tale, though, must be coaxed from their widowed mother by daughters who reveal their damage in typical fashion:

Meredith is a workaholic whose love for her husband threatens to be consumed by the orchard business she's inherited. Her marriage devolves into a series of gestures and one-liners:

Jeff shook his head. It was a minute gesture, barely even a movement, but she saw it. She had always been attuned to him, and lately their mutual disappointments seemed to create sound, like a high-pitched whistle that only she could hear.

"What?" she said.
"You didn't shake your head over nothing. What's the matter?"
"I just asked you something."
"I didn't hear you. Ask me again."
"It doesn't matter."

Sister Nina travels the world as a famous photojournalist, recording the effects of famines, natural disasters, and genocide. Many of the images she captures tell of unspeakable horror, letting her--and the millions of people who will ultimately view her work--maintain a safe distance from it all:

Changing cameras, adjusting lenses, checking the light. Her adrenaline kicked in. It was the only time she ever really felt alive, when she was taking pictures. Her eye was her great gift; that and her ability to separate from what was going on around her. You couldn't have one without the other. To be a great photographer you had to see first and feel later.

Emotion delayed becomes a way of life for the three women at the center of this novel. Their only hope of sticking together as a family after the glue dissolves--patriarch dies--lies in the truth of their mother's past. It must be spoken to be understood. The daughters will hear the voice of a survivor, someone who lived through a terrible time in Russia's history. Fear of reprisal then and crushing judgment now has rendered the mother incapable of telling her daughters what happened to her and the family she left behind. The fairy tale she has always told them in the dark before bed while they were growing up becomes the vehicle that will carry them forward to reconciliation and understanding.

January 23, 2011, view from a levee, low tide, at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
When I was growing up, it didn't take much coaxing to get my dad to tell a story about his past. Trouble was, I couldn't remember details. I'm more of a visual learner. Words need to be in print for me. That way I can come back to them anytime I want and share the details exactly as they were written.

In 2001, after years of needling him to write it all down, my dad finally recorded, two-finger method on an old manual typewriter--he didn't own a computer--his story. He agreed to let me "process the words" and create a document so that all members of the family could have a copy. We had a family reunion that year, and I still recall how glad my dad was to have us all together at once, his Memories fresh in our minds. 

Great Blue Heron seen at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
My father grew up in a place that was claimed by various occupiers for periods of time: Russians, Austrians, Italians, Germans, and Hungarians. Here is a hint of what the climate was like when he was growing up:

Since that part of the world is at about the same latitude as North Dakota, the winters were quite severe, with snow covering the ground from the middle of November until the end of March. To get around in the winter, one either walked or used horse-drawn sleds; when the ground was free of snow, to get from one place to another, one used horse-drawn carriages and wagons to move freight and people. Automobiles were very scarce, so much so that children would run out to the gate of their yard to gape at passing cars.

A bygone era, certainly, but not forgotten, and family was always the center of attention in my dad's telling of it. He didn't have any siblings. His cousins were his playmates, and his tomboyish aunt Veronica became his best friend:

She taught me how to whistle on my fingers, how to construct a slingshot, how to whittle my own toy flute out of a willow branch, how to throw rocks for both distance and accuracy; in short, she taught me all that a boy needed to know. 

Anhinga drying its wings at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
Her greatest gift to me, however, was her ability to tell fairy tales. Since there were no mechanical or electronic means to amuse people--particularly children--no TV or radio or phonographs, reliance to entertain children was placed on either reading to them or telling them stories. And what stories that aunt of mine could tell! She had a never-ending supply of tales to tell; she knew all of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales; she was familiar with Russian legends and could recite them at the drop of a hat. She could easily have taken the place of Sheherezade, the girl in the tales of the One-Thousand-and-One-Nights.

Turkey vultures sharing our path at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
 Certainly, there were newspapers, even in those days. My dad walked into town each Saturday to purchase one. At one point, it began to carry news of Hitler's incursion into Poland and the French and British resistance to this threat to their existence. Nothing in the newspaper indicated any danger to my dad's way of life. Nevertheless, he noticed something strange happening:

It was a week or so into September that I saw on my way to school more and more bicyclists--by the hundreds--streaming south and just about clogging the main roads, from early morning well into the night. Most of them were young men of military age fleeing Poland and on their way west to France and eventually to England by way of Yugoslavia and Greece, to join the western powers in the fight against Germany, we later found out.

We continued to be relatively unaffected by events outside our immediate experience, at least in my point of view, through the end of the war in Poland and that country's partition between Germany and the Soviet Union, and for the first part of the following year. It was therefore a tremendous shock to us all when the Soviet armies invaded our part of Romania on June 28, 1940...The invaders' arrival brought profound changes in all of our lives, uprooting us from our homes and precipitating the breakup of our families. 

Lighthouse at St. Marks NWR
From what I gather in my dad's text, perhaps the worst part of the invasion was its element of surprise. There was no time to prepare:

For all practical purposes, we were kept in the dark by our authority figures, who--I am guessing--feared panic and civil disorder more than they objected to the loss of some territory. Perhaps they just reasoned that since they could not prevail against the Soviets, they might as well not make a fuss about it.

Prickly pear cactus with fruit at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
Like most people, I was excited, bewildered, and apprehensive experiencing all the changes brought about by the Soviets' arrival. Perhaps the deepest impression on me was the upheaval of the familiar social order. The mayor was the first victim of the ensuing "cleansing." He was an ethnic Pole, named Adolf K--, a full-time butcher and dealer in meats and part-time city official; while not exactly beloved, he was highly respected by all and did both his jobs to most people's satisfaction.

Suddenly, some individuals started calling him "an exploiter of the working class," with no clearly discernible reason for this label; he and three of the four doctors who lived and practiced in Sadagura disappeared overnight, as did all three attorneys, several teachers, and other people considered to be community leaders. Rumors were bruited about that they had all been "oppressors of the proletariat" and that they had been arrested for their own good; they were to be re-educated in some Russian camps and be made to once again recognize their duties and responsibilities to the state and to their fellow citizens.

Yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria, at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011

A pall of almost palpable fear spread among the town's people, primarily because the loudest of denouncers were formerly considered to be dregs of society: drunks, jail birds, shiftless opportunists; they suddenly became organizers of rallies in support of the invaders and were bent on what they alleged was "righting the wrongs" committed by "blood suckers," "kulaks," and "exploiters of the working classes," meaning the previous owners of businesses, farms, and other assets, regardless of their ethnic origins or religious affiliations.

The spreading of news about the arrests/disappearances of people was by word-of-mouth, not very loudly or at great detail, for fear of being considered counterrevolutionary. One never knew whom to trust, whether what one heard was the truth or another rumor...

American alligator at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011
 Winter Garden, you see, made a big impression on me, even though it's fiction. Its story within a story is typical of what life is like for people everywhere. An older generation's experiences should not be dismissed or forgotten simply because we are constantly being told to "move forward." It's never good to keep silent and still about the past. Memories and stories do matter, or at least they should.

Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, at St. Marks NWR, Jan. 23, 2011

Are you doing anything to encourage people to tell their stories? Are you helping to preserve them in some way?

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Significant Other Blogfest--Walk2Write's SAM

“A writer is a terrible thing to waste.” At least that’s what I keep reminding myself when at 2:00 A.M. I roll over to find an empty bed. I don’t worry because this has happened several times before – the brainstorm of creativity my wife is compelled to pour out of her soul and mind, no matter the time of day or night. And I’m the primary benefactor of all her skill at mixing poetry, prose, history and thoughtful insight into our world’s current state of affairs, and putting all those complexities together in a story that reflects the simple day-to-day living of our lives. I am usually the very first person to read her latest blog posting. This way when the inevitable question is posed by me, “What exactly does this mean?” my enlightened-self delights that I know the answer before almost anyone else, and have figured it out almost all by myself!

Getting back to the first statement about a wasted writer, I must say that to prevent this tragedy, encouragement must be presented consistently and honestly. Can my dear wife-writer get absorbed at the keyboard or go through the bog of writer despair when the flood of ideas are sealed up in the gray clouds of her mind? Of course. These are the times I most try to lift the fog and play “let’s make up funny character names for your first novel.” I can’t reveal any of the character names because one day they will be famous. Also, I like to encourage her by offering up silly parodies of famous stories or limericks (some decent and some not so). One thing is for certain; I am blessed to be married to an awesome writer. Seeing her joy at completing a story and then reading those marvelous letters of the alphabet, strung together better than any pearl necklace ever seen at your local jeweler, encourages me that life is good, and my wife-writer knows how to keep it that way.

This Blogfest encourages us "significant others" to give a glimpse into the character of our spouse, best friend, or person who inspires us the most. Yes to all of the above! My wife, who is also my best friend and inspires me to reach beyond my comfort zone, has the patience of Job, but will not hesitate to speak her mind if I stray from the course set by hands much more capable than ours. She loves to garden, cook great meals, and spend time with her family. She works harder than should be necessary to keep our marriage going strong. She can be a clean freak, but has surrendered a little ground to me through the years (hooray for five pairs of shoes by the front door!).

I don't want to sound too sappy, but I don't know how I would make it in this world without her. She gets annoyed at the "entertainment news" fed to us Americans on the networks and is fed up with politicians' shenanigans, like most everyone else I know. Another major irritant for her is people too full of themselves or those who do not treat everyone with respect. She fights this negative energy surrounding us by studying history, observing the world around her, and putting her thoughts down in print. In a way, writing is her coping mechanism and her way of dealing with a world gone a bit nuts. I have to say that I did not always recognize that her literary journals were in reality a method of making sense of the big picture, and ultimately her way of making our world a better place. But my wife and best friend has this gifted way of opening eyes not quite focused on truth and redirecting sight to a place of light and seeing. This thing called blogging is pretty cool, and a cyber-family can be a real social benefit and community. In conclusion, to all you writers, poets, and philosophers - keep doing what you do because your efforts are never in vain.

Here's a link to the hosting site for this blogfest: Cruising Altitude.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Winter Fruit Frenzy and Anticipating 'The Significant Other Blogfest'

Rubus spp. (thornless blackberry), maybe Arapaho, Apache, or Navaho
 According to Henry David Thoreau (Walden, Chapter 1, Economy), "the finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly."

What are those fine qualities of our nature that squish like ripe blackberries between clumsy fingers? And why don't we protect them from harm? Maybe we do if we are "tenders" in various applications of the word.

We can be tender in our conscience, in our words and actions, and we can be tenders of things like gardens...or stories.
 I've been putting off writing anything but these posts you read here and the comments I leave scattered around Blogland. Lots of things have been occupying my thoughts and time lately. The blueberry planting in our yard at home has been doubled, though we probably won't see much fruit from it for a few years. I had to "conquer and divide" the original plants, robbing from their roots to propagate new ones.

SAM and I added a few more fruit trees to the yard this past weekend. In addition to the plum trees in the foreground, beyond the palm tree/flower bed, we now have a couple of pear trees--"Flordahome" (not misspelled, by the way,) and "Hood." As I understand, they were both developed by the University of Florida and should do well in Santa Rosa County.

We also found a self-pollinating, Oriental persimmon, "Fuyu," for a good price at a feed supply place in Milton, the same place we got the pears. It's a non-astringent type, meaning that it can be picked and eaten before fully ripe. It won't pucker your mouth like those persimmons native to the U.S. that are more seed than anything. The root stock is from the native tree, though, and the scion is Japanese.

This site by a nursery close to Tallahassee, Just Fruit and Exotics, provides a wealth of information about what to expect from various cultivars and how to care for them. Their price was considerably higher than what we found at the feed store. I'm sure if we had purchased it there, the staff would have been knowledgable and helpful. You get what you pay for. The guy at the feed store insisted that the pears were self-pollinating, but I didn't believe him. As the UF site indicates, they're not.

As in most fruitful relationships and sometimes occupations, it takes two to tango. Writing is no exception, though many people would have you believe that it must be done in solitude. I don't believe it.

There's a blogfest going on this Friday, January 21, that might just prove my point, whatever it is. I've signed up SAM to share some thoughts about me, my writing, and how it affects our relationship. Check back here on Friday to see what he has to say.

Click on this site, Cruising Altitude, to see if you and your significant other would like to participate. I know, it's short notice, but sometimes spur-of-the-moment is better than well-planned. Seize the moment!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We 'Sea' Pork at Bald Point State Park in Florida (and Eat Fried Grouper)

Sea pork, Aplidium stellatum, seen at Bald Point State Park, Florida, on January 8, 2011
We Sea Pork

Sea creatures on the beach
Are messing up the sand
They squish beneath our feet in shoes
Where SAM and I will stand

We find one called sea pork
In colors that astound
And would not be surprised at all
If dinner may be found

WAIT! (They say)...

We're tunicates, you see,
And filtering's our thing!
If bathtubs were where we lived
There would not be a ring!

Okay, so we passed on the sea pork and stopped on the way back to Tallahassee at a seafood market. The grouper and some large gulf shrimp looked way more appetizing than those blobs of cellulose we found washed up on the beach. According to my beach guide, Florida's Living Beaches (A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber), written by Blair and Dawn Witherington, tunicates and humans share some early development characteristics: gill slits, a rigid notochord, and a hollow nerve cord. In fact, sea pork is in the phylum Chordata along with birds, fish, and humans. We're all just one big, happy phylum!

The larval tunicates look like tadpoles and swim freely before they settle down with each other to form colonies of zooids and attach themselves to something in the sea. Then they secrete that tough cellulose--tunic--that wraps them up together and protects them as adults. All warm and snuggly now, they go to work filtering water that ebbs and flows past them with the tide, eating nearly all of the bacteria (95% or so) in the water. Too bad that secret information didn't get passed on to their big, hairy relatives--humans. We're pretty good at creating a septic problem but not so efficient at cleaning it up. You'd think we'd know better by now.

Here's how I fixed those grouper filets:

Dip fish filets (rinsed and dried with paper towel) in flour mixed with salt and herbs. Turn to coat both sides. Then dip in egg beaten together with about 1/2 cup half-and-half. Coat thoroughly with egg mixture. Finally, place filets in finely chopped pecans and turn over to cover both sides with the nuts. Pan fry in several tablespoons of olive oil heated to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit--177 C-- (if the oil is too hot the nuts might burn). Turn as each side browns. Fish is done when it flakes easily.

Bon appetit!

Friday, January 7, 2011

What to Do When the Love of Most Will Grow Cold? Garden!

Southern Yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa, on Camellia sasanqua "Yuletide," December 31, 2010, Santa Rosa County, Florida
 On the last day of 2010, we took stock of the garden at home. The extreme cold had left us for a day or two--at least the kind you can feel on your skin and in your bones--so it was a nice day to be outside. Sunshine kept us company in the morning as we walked around the yard, SAM and I, picking up on some cues from the social insects. Those were some good vibes I felt coming my way from the yellow jacket on my Camellia sasanqua "Yuletide," a shrub I planted almost two years ago, shortly after SAM lost his job in Illinois.  

Honeybee on Camellia sasanqua "Yuletide," Santa Rosa County, Florida, December 31, 2010

At the time, I thought I was being foolish, adding plants to a home we might have to sell or possibly lose to the bank. SAM probably thought so too, but he didn't discourage me. He knew that I was cultivating hope, something for the future. The honeybees evidently think the future is important too. They're busy even at this time of year in Northwest Florida. You would think they'd stay cozy in their hive, keeping each other warm, and letting the world go to hell in a hand basket. No, some of them are out trying to find fresh supplies of nectar and pollen so the rest of the hive can survive the winter. They just don't know any better, I guess. Unemployment is never an issue for them or the rest of their family. They're insulated from that kind of disaster at least, and they stick together for the ones that do strike. The honey helps with the sticking together, of course, but it's really that prime directive planted in their little brains that keeps them going: Keep the hive alive, whatever the cost!  

 It might not look like much now, this little plant of mine. It's only a bit more than a meter high, but it's grown a lot in two years. I got it for a bargain price, one of those after Christmas specials you find at the big box stores. Who in the world would want "Yuletide" after Christmas? It's anticlimactic, to say the least.
Anticlimax rears its ugly head even though nature tries its best to cover the mess. Before SAM and I took stock of things in and out of the garden last Friday morning, we took a walk down the street and passed that old house I showed you in late 2009 when the wind was scheduled to break. It's still falling down. What a disappointment that must be to the people directly across the street who have recently listed their home for sale. Too bad for them that the late-season tropical storm didn't go far enough and bring the whole thing crashing down. It appears as if its last inhabitants' fortune endured death by a thousand cuts, a slow decline that, unfortunately, left a telltale, if bloodless, sign of things to come for homeowners all over the United States.
Less than a mile down the road from the house with no more facade, yet another new subdivision has been carved out of Northwest Florida farmland and forest. A few houses have been built, and there are plenty of empty lots waiting for more. So far as we could tell, no one has moved into the neighborhood. I imagine the builder and his crews are getting a little anxious. This development, by the way, began to take shape after the economy and real estate market started to collapse a couple of years ago. Is this evidence of hopefulness or just flying in the face of common sense? Time will tell. Let's hope it's a kind tale for the sake of those people who are waiting on things to get better.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round--
Of Ground, or Air or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--

This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--

(Emily Dickinson, c. 1862)

It seems that Miss Emily had considered that famous biblical prophecy a time or two: "Because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of most will grow cold..." The inevitability of life's struggles, the weight of the world's troubles, not to mention personal trials--all of it seems too much to bear, alone at least. That must be how love grows cold, in individual souls, one at a time, cultivated over time, nurtured by anger or fear and then eventually paralyzed into inaction.

It's an interesting thing, this idea of growing cold. C. S. Lewis in his story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe used eternal Winter as a trope to describe the expansion of coldheartedness, something that grows as faith contracts.
Late in the morning on the last day of the year before the rains began that would dampen some revelers' spirits, SAM and I got busy increasing our stock of blueberry bushes. It was as simple as digging up some of the roots that have been steadily multiplying themselves since we first planted those suckers from the original blueberry plants almost two years ago. It looks like our garden will need to be even more fruitful in the near future.
There may be more mouths to feed from this garden. Let's hope it and we are up to the task. The soil, at least, is getting better all the time. Someone we know who raises chickens has promised me something to make it even richer. Hey, we take what we can get!