Ahem

IMG_6684-1I feel so rusty at this, so awkward. It’s not so much because actually doing it feels funny, but more because of the contrast between how unfamiliar it feels to be here, and how entirely natural it used to feel.

:(

It’s like returning to anything, I suppose. The yoga mat, or healthy eating… we don’t slip right back in where we we left off – or at least I don’t. It’s more like returning from a trip, maybe a long one. Abroad. I bring back treasures and memories, something tucked in my pocket, photographs, experiences that I hadn’t had before. I’d like to think I’m richer for this time away from regular blogging, but I doubt it.

At any rate, Atlanta really knows how to do Spring! Everything just comes into bloom at once. I wish I could bottle the crazy combination of daffodils-azaleas-dogwoods-cherry trees-forsythia-viburnums that is Spring here and send it to my friends who are still threatened with snow in the north. I wonder if we don’t appreciate the change in seasons more when it comes slowly? I used to think March was the worst… but here there were even a couple days when it was in the mid 80’s and I was left looking for shade beneath trees that hadn’t leafed out yet!

What’s blooming in your part of the world?

Good vibrations

Your paradigm of an alligator, if you happen to have one, is likely of a large, aquatic, mostly solitary reptile, according to a statistic I just made up.

:-)

If you’re at all like me, you also think they’re kinda scary, when you remember to think of them at all.  As someone who’s only just learning about alligators, I have to constantly remind myself of the possibility of an alligator whenever I kneel down at the edge of a pond or marsh here in the Southeast.

The Georgia coast and Florida are rich in ‘gators. There are large gators and baby-sized gators; gators who sun themselves and camouflaged gators and midnight-black gators; puddle gators and swamp gators and stealthy, silent-as-death gators; smiling, don’t-you-want-to-pet-me gators and American Coot-eating gators; and just this past weekend at St. Marks NWR, I can add to my list: bellowing gators; and… well, very many gators.

Alligators aren’t an everyday worry for me here in the city, so a lot of the year is pretty shy on them. But when we travel south looking for ducks here for the winter, the gators make their presence known, taking up residence on banks and logs, near salt water and brackish, flowing and still. They are one of my very favorite surprises of living in the South, though it takes a certain amount of caution to enjoy them. If you want to be safe, loving alligators from a distance is a good place to start.

And that bellowing sound they make… the closest thing I can liken it to is a motorboat that’s slow to start.

Ever heard it?

622 miles closer to the perfect summer job

Today’s sunset at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

So I guess I finally have enough of my ducks in a row to tell you all about my plans for this summer…

I’m going home to NJ!

The perfect summer job landed in my lap… I’ll be working for NJ Fish and Wildlife to monitor and protect beach-nesting birds.

Piping Plovers!

Least Terns!

American Oystercatchers!

Please don’t anyone pinch me… I don’t want to wake up if this is a dream!

: )

I set out early this morning with my bunny and my African violets and after 12+ hours in the car, we’re all feeling pretty bedraggled.  I took the shortcut across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to spend the night on the Delmarva Peninsula and will meet the ferry to Cape May in the morning. It’s beautiful here (and there’s still “sweet tea” available!) and I was treated to Brown Pelicans and frolicking dolphins this evening when I stopped at the scenic overlook on the bridge to stretch my legs. Plus, I can smell the sea again… But it’s cold! I started the day with the AC running in the car and ended it with the heat blasting.

Some Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers are already on eggs… I’m hoping to arrive on the beach with the Least Terns. I’m so excited! I can’t wait to get started and share this adventure with you…

Trout lilies, by the millions

We very purposefully stumbled upon the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve near Cairo GA this past weekend. Cairo (pronounced like the famous syrup) is not a place that you can easily stumble upon… it’s really in the middle of nowhere. There’s no hint from the roadside to the casual passer-by of the miracle contained beneath its trees.

 

Probably, I expected that the people who wrote the brochure were exaggerating.

: )

Nope… millions of Trout Lilies bloom in this very special place beside a stretch of highway that looks like every other stretch of highway in GA.

Trout lilies as ground cover, can you imagine?

I suspect that this was, for many years, a closely guarded “secret spot” of the local wildflower enthusiasts. I also suspect that it was only made available for public enjoyment when it became threatened by a road crew or a developer and the locals needed money to preserve it. Not that it matters any; it’s now owned by county government and protected as the treasure it is…

Trout Lilies are a common harbinger of Spring in the Northeast; I don’t believe they’re very common in this part of the country and certainly not in this number. It’s said that this is the largest concentration anywhere. The day we visited was overcast and it was almost dark by the time we found the spot… that’s evidenced by the nearly closed flowers. We also found many, many Spotted Trillium and a couple (impossible to photograph) Twayblade Orchids. I’d think with more time there, I might’ve found all sorts of interesting things.

If you want to go out looking for Trout Lilies in your part of the world, pick a sunny afternoon (when the flowers will be fully open!) and look for them blooming on wet hillsides near streams. They’re a spring ephemeral, so do all their work of blooming and setting seed before the forest canopy puts them into shade for the season. Go early while it’s still freezing cold out. It makes finding them sweeter, trust me. Happy hunting and let me know what you find!

Snow birds

A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder. 
 –Susan Orlean

We had snow today in Atlanta… real snow that caused my school to shut down early. I just saw on the TV that school’s closed tomorrow too… a snow day!

I spent the afternoon watching the birds in their snow-induced feeding frenzy. I sat on the warm couch and photographed them through the window as they scavenged bits of dropped seeds and suet or quenched their thirst at the flowerpot saucer I kept unfrozen with warm water.

I’m happiest to see the bluebirds so close; we have four or five at time at the suet feeder when the weather is especially cold. They bring other nice birds with them. A couple of yellow-rumped warblers are often around and occasionally a ruby-crowned kinglet even visits!

Pine warblers… we have what seems like a lot of pine warblers. It’s hard to know for sure how many there are because the males chase everyone else away from the feeder.

And they chase everyone else off their perch on the fence.

And they don’t like to share the flowerpot saucer, either. Such pretty birds, like a ray of bright sunshine. It’s still odd to me to see them in wintertime, but what a treat!

Almost perfect

I’m home now from Thanksgiving in NJ… tired but happy. I’m glad to report that vast quantities of mashed potatoes were consumed (as was a piece of Brian’s homemade cheesecake). I found my winter coat and was thankful for it. Surprise of all surprises, I found time amid the holiday craziness to see some good friends, as well as some good birds. Thankfully, we did not forget the Brussels sprouts or the mashed turnips. There was a beach walk and lots of wide-eyed staring at the places I miss so much. I thought about my dad a lot.

Swapping the sun

October used to mean the last sunny Saturdays on the beach, the last warm days to throw open the windows, the last long rays of light. Life moved indoors to soup, flannel sheets and listening to the wind howl outside for a couple months.

It’s not that way here; summer is the time to hide indoors with the windows shut against the blasting heat. I look forward to being able to enjoy time outdoors again without being drenched in sweat!

The earth still goes through her beautiful old cycle of change this month, however. Gone will be the sexy green heat and the cabaret act of summer. The sun’s glaring footlights are swapped for a mellow gold moon. October’s perfume is fallen leaves and wood smoke with a hint of apples. There will be chili again (and split-pea soup… hurrah!) and baseball for the hometown team (go Braves!)

What are you most looking forward to?

Our carnival life on the water

Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America — that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement… We never have the sense of home so much as when we feel that we are going there. It’s only when we get there that our homelessness begins.” ― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again 

Hurricane Sandy wrecked communities rich and poor in NJ, from the Staten Island-meets-Miami style multi-million dollar homes of Bayhead to the blue collar bayfront bungalows near where I grew up. Its images were unimaginable and unbearable to me: of trashed boardwalks pushed into the sea, of an iconic roller coaster dumped into the ocean, of a road leading into the tide where homes used to be. From a thousand miles away and desperate for news of what was happening at home, it looked as if my childhood had been washed away and that the entire Jersey Shore that I knew and loved was gone.

Eight months later, towards the beginning of last month, I went home to NJ for a couple days expecting to find a ruined way of life there, but also hoping, still, to catch a faint whiff of the competing aromas that signal “home”at the Jersey Shore: the fried dough of zeppoles just before the powdered sugar goes on, the sweet muck of a local salt marsh at low tide, the extra garlic on pizza slices and the salt spray coming off the ocean. All of these live deep in the soul of NJ for me. I found all of it, at once, and witnessed small moments in the sad seaside ritual of rebuilding the storm-damaged communities that I hold dear.

I can’t pretend to be untouched by grief at the total destruction of the shore towns that are a backdrop to a thousand stories in my life. But the Jersey Shore is more than a place; it’s more than its wood-plank promenades and town squares on stilts. It’s more than its carnival lights. It’s more than a staging ground for summer. For many, it’s an identity and an attitude. I love the shore best on foggy days when you can’t even see the boardwalk or the ocean, but can only smell it. I love the dampness and the feeling that you can almost lick the salt out of the air. I love the dampness in the sheets at night when you go to bed. You’d never put up with that anywhere else, but at the shore, it just feels right! When you walk around at night, you smell the boardwalk everywhere. There’s always a far-off murmur of traffic. It feels safe. It feels comfortable. It feels like home. All of these things, thankfully, remain.

*Photo of where a house used to be in Union Beach, one of the hardest hit communities in NJ.

*Post title from “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” by Bruce Springsteen

If looks could kill…

another grumpy PAWS Atlanta adoptable kitty!

“I dare you to take a flattering photo of me!”

Probably this is not her best look.

: )

Aside from the obvious cattitude, I need help from my photography friends with black cats and dogs. Unless there’s sun streaming onto their fur, they so often look… well, blech! What can I do about that? Any hints?

One thing to love

I’m discovering that “city life”, as it is commonly thought of, is not very much to my liking. There’s no surprise in this for me, really. The pointless traffic and acres of asphalt leave me wanting for home…

One perk, though, is that the mass of humanity I live among is a stop on many a national book tour. I can slog my way into the ridiculous traffic that always looms outside the door and find myself, at the local Baptist church, in the company of some of my favorite authors. This week it was Khaled Hosseini touring for his new book, And the Mountains Echoed.

From Amazon.com:

“… a novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale… Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.”

If you’ve somehow never read his earlier books, please do find them. He’s a wonderful storyteller. They are not easy happy stories, but wonderful in the way he leads his characters through a world of sadness and loss to a place of hope.

For many years I used Hosseini’s The Kite Runner in the remedial reading classes I taught at the community college. For most of my students, it was the first novel they “willingly” read and discussed. Many of them, as well as my colleagues, questioned my choice of a novel about Afghanistan and one with such difficult themes. The thing is, while his books are mostly set there, they’re not necessarily “about” that faraway place and it’s the poetry of his words and his ability to speak to emotion and human shortcomings that make him a great read, I think.

I brought along my dog-eared copy to be signed by the author. I was embarrassed at the thought of actually having him sign it, with the state it’s in… pages falling out, a hundred vocabulary words highlighted, my notes for student discussion scribbled in the margins.

: )

I was saved from offering him any explanation by rain pelting the church windows and the sound of sirens. We were told a “strong storm” was approaching and the signing line was hastily closed. Totally drenched on my way to the car, I asked someone what the sirens meant…

Add the possibility of tornadoes to the list of things that are not to my liking… where I come from, the only time we heard those sirens was on winter mornings to announce to the community that schools were closed for a snow day. Do they still do that where you’re from? Those sirens are a happy sound in my memory! Talk about culture shock.

Please take the opportunity to hear him speak if you should be lucky enough to live somewhere that his book tour will visit. He feels like a very, very genuine man and is as great a storyteller in person as on the pages of his novels.

As always, let me know what you think! Let talk books!