Nauset Light and around Cape Cod

Sometimes just looking up and seeing the light is enough.” 
~Terri Guillemets

Birders are a generous lot, as a rule. Mention on FB that you’ll be visiting a particular place and before you know it, birder friends will have dinner plans and an itinerary made for you, including convenient stops along the way from the airport where you can find whatever species of bird it is that you’re pining after.

I’d been pining away for Piping Plovers, it being March and all. March is the month when plovers return to NJ beaches from wherever it is that they’ve spent the winter months. March in the Northeast is the most miserable of months, I think, because Spring is so close on the horizon and you want it so badly, but the weather is dank and damp and mostly miserable, cold and gray.

On the tails of a short vacation in Florida, a couple days on Cape Cod in March seemed an impossibility… I’d given away most all of my cold-weather clothes before moving here and going from shorts and flip-flops to thermal underwear and gloves in the span of a week felt ridiculous! But… there might be Piping Plovers!

I spent an afternoon wandering around the city of Boston… remembering the cold and delighting in a Dunkin’ Donuts on almost every corner! Spring had the willows in Boston Commons that lovely green that willows know how to perfect.

Weeping willows are not very common here. Surprising that I should miss them…

The coast of Florida is, of course, beautiful and I’m glad for each and every chance to visit, but beaches there lack something that beaches in the Northeast have in abundance. It might be the wind that never rests. Or air that is thick with salt and the smell of low tide. Oh, how I miss that smell! Maybe it’s just atmosphere and the feeling of home. There are beautiful and scenic places where I live now, but no easy access to the ocean.

We met up with a local Cape Cod bird club and spent an appropriately cold and misty, rainy morning on the beach at Nauset Light (thanks for the suggestion Mojoman!) looking at winter birds. We wandered along dirt roads on the Cape looking at ducks and exploring the ponds that Mary Oliver described in her poetry.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast perched on Gull Hill in Provincetown… and scanned the harbor for breaching whales while we had afternoon wine and cheese and watched Northern Gannets dive into the ocean from the warmth of our rental car at Herring Cove Beach.

Race Point Beach had plover fencing installed, but no Piping Plovers, yet.

Compensation for the lack of plovers was found at the wharf in P-town, where we found Harlequins and Common Eiders within spitting distance! Eiders have always been one of those birds for me… I’d never had a really satisfying look at them before and anywhere that one can see Harlequins without a treacherous jetty-walk (like at Barnegat Light) is worth a visit.

Of course I didn’t have a proper camera with me, you know.

Silly.

I’d love to get back to Cape Cod in the summer someday… maybe even visit Nantucket. I’d imagine late September to be the perfect time of year… maybe I could catch the Piping Plovers before they depart…

Stones

Stone cairns that mark the trail up Arabia Mountain

I have piled stones
on top of one another
for years now
stones of habit
stones of comfort
stones of refuge
stones to settle my heart
stones to mark the days of my journey…

It’s not uncommon to find stone cairns used as trail markers. These piles of stone help us find our way. They lead us somewhere and provide a tangible space to pause and recall. They offer a moment to get our bearings and seek direction. They hint for us to stop and listen for the whispering wind.

We may stand at a cairn and remember. We might dream or hope. Maybe we turn within to figure out the meaning behind this pile of stones. What does this place mean? What are its secrets? What are we meant to find here?

My mother’s cookie jar

My dad’s health had declined so suddenly early in 2004 that he couldn’t live alone any longer and my brothers and I were left scrambling to make arrangements for his care. We also had to figure out what to do with his house and all the stuff in it.

The short story is that we shared dad and cared for him as best we could amongst us while we set about cleaning out and selling his house. I don’t remember how many 20-yard dumpsters we’d paid for, but still… my attic ended up filled with dad’s books, mom’s dresses and lots of assorted “stuff” from numerous generations of our family.

I never really dealt with any of that stuff properly. I’m awful about purging my own things, let alone all this sentimental crap… my dad’s high school ring, a letter he wrote from France to my mom while they were engaged, her wedding dress preserved in a fancy cardboard box…

What am I to do with any of this?

Life has found me in a place now that I’m sorting through the collections of a childhood and a marriage: my lifetime so far. Some things are easy to keep and others… pfft! It seems impossible to do anything other than cart them around with me until sometime when I can think more clearly about their meaning and real merit in my future.

I’ve been washing and boxing up my mother’s china and sorting through ridiculous amounts of bird-related-kitsch the last couple weeks. I’ve no idea what to do with the perfectly-preserved wedding dresses worn for two failed marriages, but…

(sad sigh)

This cookie jar, as awful-looking as it is… I know I want to keep it!

: )

Of course it would be meaningless to anyone else, but I remember it there on the counter above the breadbox in the house I grew up in. It’s one remnant of my childhood… innocent of any guilty feelings and sense of obligation… I see it and think of Scooter Pies and Pecan Sandies.

: )

In the last couple years I’d used this as a treat jar for my bunnies… appropriate, no? It broke at some point recently and my sweet DexH glued it back together for me.

– – – – – – – – – – –

“My mom” is just an empty title to most people in my life. I have just one friend who remembers her, in fact. It’s 30 years since she passed away when I was 11. I can look at pictures of her and still smell her perfumed hug or remember days at the beach as a kid. There is little in my life, now, to make her a real person. This ugly cookie jar was probably meaningless to her… an empty household piece that once belonged to the most important person in my life.

Despite my inclinations to the contrary, I still hold on tightly sometimes. I still think her stuff is as sacred as my memory of her.

– – – – – – – – – – –

I wonder what it is that you all have been carting around with you to remember the people that once loved you? A pink trunk full of tattered love letters? A collection of tools? That set of crystal hi-ball glasses you can’t bear to part with, tho you don’t even really know what a hi-ball is?

: )

Do tell, please. Lend me some comfort in my state of overwhelmedness.

Fishing the sky

What a needy, desperate thing to claim what’s wild for oneself…

 

Can a kept hawk ever be a *happy* hawk, I wonder?

 

 

Falconers will say their birds are well-loved and are cared for properly. I don’t doubt that.

Educators who work with non-releasable birds will say that many people who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to interact with a wild thing are touched by the lives of these captive birds. I don’t doubt that, either.

But keeping wild-caught birds for falconry? Purposely fishing the sky for a healthy hawk to catch and keep as one’s personal hunting partner?

How is that right?

Are captive-bred birds somehow less desirable for falconry?

Anyone know?

I’m as guilty as the next person of enjoying the “horse and pony show” offered by the opportunity to be up close with a wild bird of prey, but I can’t help wondering that their souls aren’t somehow diminished by the contact; by being kept.

Non-releasable birds have to be thought of in a different context, I guess, because of their potential as champions and ambassadors of a species; were it not for them most people would never have the chance to see a Bald Eagle or a Screech Owl at arm’s length. Or to understand the impact we humans have on them.

But falconers and their healthy wild-caught birds?

I’m not so sure how I feel about that.

My issue is not with falconers, exactly. Falconry sounds like a very cool thing to do… there was a period of time where I read everything about falconry that I could get my hands on. Dan O’Brien’s books were particularly alluring to me… his stories of hunting grouse and ducks on the prairies of South Dakota with a dog and the constant sky…

Falconers are due credit, I believe, for the role they played in saving the Peregrine Falcon, among other species. The individual falconer with a couple birds that he flies on weekends as part of a greater lifestyle does not trouble me.

My issue is with those who turn to *education* to support a habit of acquiring birds. Maybe they need an educational component on their license to increase the number of birds they’re permitted to keep. I have no idea, really, but I’ve seen a number over the years who just don’t seem to be doing the right thing by the birds in their care.

Maybe I’m just being overly sentimental.

… to be wild means nothing you do or have done needs to be explained.

Photos: Harris’ Hawk at an upstate NY *raptor center*
Quotes from “Hawk” by Stephen Dunn

Careful scrutiny

I’d wanted to write
about night herons
and their delight in the lowest tides
their thankless patience
their red eyes and startling cries in the gloom of night

or the careful scrutiny of a gull’s eye
under the august sun
as the tide goes out
and sanderling plunder the wrack-line at my feet

instead there’s the moon rising, lopsided and yellow
the promise of a little prince, enjoyed together
this deliberate probing of a heart’s memory
and the shared revelation
of a whimbrel’s decurved bill.

Yes, you.

You there…

(not you guys, of course, or you)

But you… yes you, looking over my shoulder as I write.

(and you too, faraway, but not invisible)

You think you know me? You think what I write here is the truth of me? The truth of us?

Pfft!

I can be anything… go anywhere… do anything… be anyone, here.

How would you know otherwise, really?

I can write any story, create any truth…

You’ll believe what you want… read your own truth into whatever I write, but know this:

I write with the knowledge of you, there, always.

What you create from my stories is your truth, not mine… a mirror of what’s inside you.

You’ve a very convenient window into what you imagine to be my world, but this is not my world. This is a story I tell to entertain myself.

Sometimes I write to entertain you… or to annoy you, maybe, just a little.

😉

(Of course you know that, right?)

We are from

A couple years ago now (!) I invited my brothers to write a “Where I’m From” essay as a way to explore the story of our growing up together…

I’d treasured what they’d written and held the essays close to my heart, but never felt quite satisfied enough with my own version of our story to publish it here. I’m still not, really, but thought I’d share anyway; mostly because their stories make me smile today…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

From Kevin, the eldest:

I am from Mexican dinners, from Cadillac and Lucky Strike.

I am from the typical 1950’s urban sprawl home on a postage stamp property, cut from the fabric of a long gone family farm.

I am from the fuzz of a dandelion, the wind; not always litely blowing me through life.

I am from sauerkraut and pork chops and stomping feet, from Neil and Claire and VonOesen and Whary.

I am from the “last to arrive” and “last to leave” family.

I am from “be careful crossing Middle Road” and “Don’t let a stranger buy you a Coke”.

I am from a Protestant upbringing, but with keeping an open mind and finding my own way to the truth in life.

I’m from Jersey City, Mom’s Lasagna on Christmas Day and Dad’s antipasto on Christmas Eve.

From brother Neil opening ALL the presents on Christmas morning before everybody woke up, the other brother who broke everybody’s toys on Christmas and the Holly Hobby House debacle.

I am from family albums filled with pictures of days gone by, faces almost forgotten, slices of memories, stored in boxes, waiting to be divided on some future free weekend.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

From Brian, the middle child and family poet:

I am from the dirt field where we grew up as kids, from Band-Aids on so many skinned knees with wet shoes and soiled socks so often left in the downstairs foyer.

I am from that big house facing the field, where from our picture window you would show us the seasons as they changed from brown to green to gold to white, never far from its delights, if only to pick flowers next spring so as to surprise you.

I am from the Black-Eyed Susan daisies that grew so wonderfully there, unbothered by the wind, and that sturdy mulberry tree by the jumping fence behind Wolfkind’s, whose fruits always littered the ground with their sweet exhuberance and so stained our hands and lips with their purple goodness.

I am from Friday night fish stick dinners and the strength that was brought to bear in the face of incredible sadness, from Dad, from Grandma VonOesen, from Old Man Wheary.

I am from the solid determination of good Pennsylvania stock and from the hardiness of the anthracite coal our family toiled for so long to bring to light.

I’m that child you told to “sit up straight at the table and mind your manners,” so that Mom and Dad could brag to us and the rest of the family at holidays that they were never embarrassed to take us kids out to a fancy restaurant for dinner.

I am from that busy corner’s stick-built church where Dad was an elder on Sundays and us kids the freest of spirits along for the joyous ride to the corner sweet shop after Sunday School to pick out our favorite chocolate-covered treats. “Remember not to eat it before breakfast,” Mom always said. I am the one who usually could never quite wait.

I’m from a family from Shamokin Pennsylvania and from those Jersey City ballfields we mused about as kids from the raised highway as we passed by them on our way to Aunt Letha and Uncle Doc’s apartment in New York City for Thanksgiving, or Easter, and from Mom’s special lasagna and tomato sauce on Christmas Day and that chilled chocolate pudding we so loved from the icebox in those fancy crystal cups.

I am from the son of a son of an adopted boy who grew up strong and proud as the result of a shared love and kindness the Whary family gave, and from a man whose only son would attend school only to the second grade, but who would grow up to be a power engineer, role model and generous friend to so many people.

I’m from that white-haired Shamokin man whose youngest grandson’s persistence and drive for the better things in life would finally allow him to announce the coveted role of senior electrical engineer to his congratulatory wife at home.

I am the one you see in those black and white pictures from Gerald Square and Washington Park at Easter… the one in that fancy blue baby carriage that carried all us kids just the same, so snug and warm in our new outfits that Mom picked out with so much love and faith for our family’s bright future together.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

From me, the baby girl:

I am from paper-bag lunches, Scooter Pies and tea with Grandma.

I’m from the house on the corner with the weedy front lawn, a parade of Cadillacs in the driveway and pots banging from the stoop at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I am from firethorn, spirea and quack grass. A neighborhood creek to play in, lounge chair forts at the pool club and ice-cold plums at the beach. A lonely dog staked out back and the shadow of a tall weeping willow.

I’m all legs, blue eyes and skin that freckles in the sun. From the radioman and the roof-model, Neil and Claire and others a part of the past now, too.

I am from late nights at the kitchen table, the coffee always on, talking long into the night. A daydreamer and a dawdler.

From the family that eats together stays together. From little pots that have big ears. From God’s eyes and the healing power of pyramid water. The temple on Osborne and Vacation Bible School at the church on the corner. From children are to be seen and not heard.

I am from the water’s edge and the dour faces of Pennsylvania coal mine country. I’ve never stopped looking back. Forever landlocked within my own body, I lose myself when far from the coast for too long.

From Uncle Doc who peppered his beer and ground his teeth and never spoke Spanish after Franco. From Grandpa with his cigars and baseball games on the radio in the parlor.

From a battered box of costume jewelry and a closet full of my mother’s clothes that I’ll never grow into. The baby girl, the tattletale, the spoiled one. I’m from the stories I heard, but never loved until they stopped being told.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

What’s most interesting to me, I think, are the things we each choose to claim…

Anyway… the template is here… give it a try, share your story.

64 steps

Standing at the bottom of the
circular staircase, there are just 64 steps to the top and a couple of landings in between where you can look out. Sandy Hook and Manhattan lie to the far left, that maze of a new bridge crosses the river down below and leads to the sea, home is somewhere in the estuary to the right. Medieval in its feel, the brownstone building is eight-sided; not a perfect twin to its square southern sister who’s never been open to climb. I remember kissing a red-haired boy with my hands on the top railing during a class trip in the 7th grade. The teacher sent a note home to my dad the next day. It’s all at the bottom landing that I remember this, that cramped space that gives no hint of the view 64 steps up. There’s a restaurant at the bottom of the hill, under the old bridge, where you can eat steamed clams and mussels, tho I never did. I used to take the bus to Sandy Hook, hitchhike on the long road out with a friend to our favorite beach and come home with the sea in my hair. The salt from an afternoon swim still on my skin. The waves against my body, the caress of the sea, the embrace… that stayed with me back at home. I worked in a restaurant on the bay for a while and ate clam broth every night that tasted of the sea. I liked the potatoes but the clams slid down rough. I haven’t yet learned to like the texture of clams. There are 11 steps to go. This could be any place, this circle of stairs, but as soon as I think it, I know it’s not true. Nowhere feels quite like this. It stays with me and rises on the wings of a gray and white gull. It follows the boats through the green-marked channel below. Sea Bright isn’t far… where I would go to watch fishermen and plovers. Stand in the dunes and tall grass at the end of Surf Street. Watch the tide rush and the flow of the moon, let go to the arms of the sea. When I climb back down I’ll run for the sea, eager for its lick on my legs. I’ll wait for dark, maybe, look up from the sand to the moon on my skin, to the beam from this clamshell-shaped lens as it circles the sea and finds me, lost in remembering.