How many days?

I wonder if it’s a part of the closing down of the year that causes this almost resentful acceptance of time and distance.

Winter’s coming cold brings the chance for rest and reflection… we’re forced inside with time to ponder the duration of a sleepless night or the reach of one’s imagination.

Plus, there’s time to learn a new trick or two with PhotoShop, but very little daylight for the taking of photos.

I love Autumn most as it comes; in the subtle changes of a September day and the endless stars that fill an October night. November for me is a time for looking forward… forward to feasts with family and frosty mornings with the hope of snow by day’s end. There’s the sharp air and the deep, dark cold of December ahead to contend with and the summation of another year and all its memories to be remembered.

Today is the day to walk with Autumn and to know it in your eyes and ears and with your entire being. Here it is. Here we are. Here I am. Here are the owls dueting in the black locust out back as I type, announcing the season and their intentions for the future.

The days grow short as the nights grow long…

How many days till Spring?



It’s not easy to feel pity at the age of ten. You might feel admiration or fear, amazement, or scorn. But pity is an adult emotion, a little worn out, like a grown-up’s heart. At ten, you love just about anything madly; the grass, the air, a friend, your very own hands. You don’t pity anything, not even yourself.

I felt pity once when I was nine. I remember it with such clarity that sometimes the same sour and unpleasant sensation shakes me like a bolt of lightning. It wasn’t a conscious pity, like what I’m capable of now, but I know that it was as sharp and deep as a voice that shakes the branches of a tree so delicate and green that anything could shatter it.

Behind our house, high in the mountains, were the Sestil caves. Those high reddish cliffs, like castles or gigantic fortresses, inspired a respect in us at dusk that felt like fear. We liked fear. We, and I dare say the majority of kids in the world, liked to be afraid. We climbed up slowly, our skin covered in goosebumps from the breeze of the advancing night. We trembled as we arrived at the mouth of the caves because a dark moistness hung in the air there and that great coldness that surrounds the unknown. Fear, the great fear of who-knows-what.

The bats lived there, hanging upside down in bunches. There is nothing that a country child hates, save for wolves, more than bats; they are the image of satan since time immemorial. We had caught that hatred, even though we only half understood it. Perhaps only in the spirit of imitation; that need we all have to not stand out; that thing that makes us do the same things as other kids. My brothers went into the cave with sticks… those long hazelwood branches that now, in the hands of other children, fill me with a strange nostalgia.

I knew what they were doing, but one day I saw it for myself. The older boys brought out a bat, suspended by the tips of its wings, spread like a fan. They were a group of six or more and, fascinated, I followed them. They crucified the bat and they tortured it. With a burning cigarette they forced it to smoke, they burned it and they cursed it with great hatred. They said things like, “Take that damned satan!”

Finally they left it alone and went on their way. Someone was coming or had called them. The animal was in front of me, nailed to the trunk of a black poplar with its wings spread wide, still alive. Suddenly, my fear and unhealthy curiosity disappeared, along with the old-fashioned hatred that had filled me. Something broke inside me: ideas that had been accepted without knowing how or why, slogans of good and evil, of justice, of what should and should not happen. I felt something so dark and intense that it made me remove the nails from the bat, screaming, overcoming my disgust, my fear, and my own self-pity. I left it stretched out in the wet grass and went far away to cry without knowing why.

Julie’s last couple posts about the discovery of a red bat she had the pleasure to share with some Ohio schoolkids reminded me of this, written years ago and based ever-so-loosely on Ana Maria Matute’s “Los murcielagos”. Yes… the tone is dark, as in so many of her stories of children, but the message is always one that I find uplifting.

The genie in my iPod

Dont bother clicking up there! Just when I thought I had YouTube fooled and tricked them into letting me embed the video. Pfft! A link is at the bottom of this post.

iTunes has this new feature called Genius which creates playlists from your library of music. For someone like me who has some 1400 songs on her iPod, but listens to the same dozen or so over and over again, it’s a nice feature, I think. I’ve tried creating playlists based on my favorites, but that’s not exactly worked, either, because I’m still listening to the same bunch of songs all the time. I need something to outsmart myself, I think.

For example, if I choose this favorite song from Justin Nokuza, the genie in my iPod will make a playlist for me of *similar* songs:

Lucky by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat
Till It Happens to You by Corinne Bailey Rae
Say by John Mayer
Realize by Colbie Caillat
Last Request by Paolo Nutini
Hold You in My Arms by Ray LaMontagne
Taylor by Jack Johnson
You and I Both by Jason Mraz
Why Georgia by John Mayer
Everybody Hurts by REM
Your Heart Is an Empty Room by Death Cab for Cutie
Run by Snow Patrol
American Tune by Paul Simon
Just Like Heaven by The Cure
Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard
You Are the Best Thing by Ray LaMontagne
Hook by Blues Traveler
It’s Okay to Think About Ending by Earlimart
Wild World by Cat Stevens
Save the Last Dance for Me by Michael Buble
Golden Train by Justin Nozuka
I Don’t Trust Myself by John Mayer
Adia by Sara McLachlan
Told You So by The Guggenheim Grotto

I’ve no idea what the genie thinks these songs have in common and frankly, I don’t see the similarities, but I’m glad for some forced variety in what I listen to. The Genius feature will also recommend songs for purchase from iTunes, but I’ve not trusted it yet to do that.

Has anyone besides Jayne tried this out yet? Thanks for the heads up, Jayne!

Oh and do have a listen to Justin Nozuka, please. Let me know what you think?

This sand and what crumbles

Castles made of sand fall into the sea, eventually.

Or at least that’s what we’re made to think.

I’m not buying it though.

I imagine the best is yet to come.

I expect impossible things.

I know that I don’t know and that I’m not alone in that.

I anticipate answers from surprising places.

I believe trust is the face of courage.

I dare to love myself first.

I choose risk and its joys and unexpected pain.

I accept dreams as a guide to what’s possible.

I remember everything that my heart already knows.

What about you?


The parts of a dog

The whiskey-colored eyes, full of impishness or warmth or wisdom or innocence.

The soft petal-shaped ears set high on that big head, keepers of many whispered secrets and dreams.

The formidable tongue, the big jowls so often rubbed in mud and stubble and then across the leg of your pants or the arm of your couch. And that nose, cold and wet, when (and where!) you least expect it.

Webbed like a duck, offered in exchange for cookies. Responsible for countless muddy footprints on the kitchen floor. Prone to leaping and darting like a fool.

At the very end of that stout body lies this weapon of destruction and infectious bringer of happiness.

I’m not sure which is my favorite part. Probably it has to do with the way he leans against me sometimes, or the weight of his head in my lap as he snores, or the sight of him across the dog park, wrestling and dancing with his canine friends, as he realizes I’ve wandered away and leaves his fun and runs to me to check that I’m okay.

Yes… I can do this!

I was writing this post in my head yesterday as I sped down the parkway to Island Beach State Park and expected to have to title it, “How Not to Lead Your First-Ever Field Trip”. First on the list was to be, “Be on time for once!” but I was already late when I’d thought of my post title.

Anyway… you might remember me mentioning here that I’m now responsible for planning field trips for my local audubon chapter. It’s gone well so far, but I couldn’t find anyone able to lead our November trip to Island Beach. I was even almost begging near strangers at the hawkwatch in Cape May two weeks ago. Remember Lloyd? Yeah.. he said no, too. I never found anyone, so short of canceling the trip I thought I’d make a go of leading it myself and hoping no one showed up.


The weather was awful… rainy and foggy… so zero participants seemed like a real possibility. It turned out there were seven people waiting on me to get there, and thanks be, all were beginning birders, as is typical for these field trips. Beginning birders are easy to please and, luckily, don’t know gulls any better than I do. We just agreed at the outset to ignore them! We saw some of my beloved sanderlings on the beach and I struggled with some terns that were lazing among the fiishermen, but I decided they were Forster’s and (laugh) they all believed me!

Being *the leader* imparts a certain authority that I’m not entirely comfortable with, but other people who lead trips have told me that pretending confidence is half the game. Whatever. Here is the second of three shorebirds that I can identify in winter. Funny how Black-bellies are so wary compared with the sanderlings… I had to stalk this guy up into the dunes for a pic.

We spent some time scanning Barnegat Bay and came up with a couple groups of Bufflehead and a couple Loons, but that was it. Island Beach is a barrier island and has a wonderful maritime forest like Sandy Hook; we found some Kinglets and Yellow-rumps, but ended up watching the feeders at the nature center to escape the rain for a bit and actually be able to study some common birds. The beginners liked that, I hope, plus I got my first Junco of the season.

The show of the day was the Northern Gannets in a feeding frenzy just off the beach. What cool birds! Sadly, I don’t think Gannets are easy for beginners to appreciate. They all kept asking me, “How can you tell they’re not gulls?” I guess their crappy little binoculars didn’t help any. I remember feeling the same way the first time I saw Gannets… the field trip leader pointed out back then that the Gannets were refrigerator white and pointed at both ends, so I just repeated that back to the group. Plus, the way they drop like arrows into the water is just the coolest thing and unique to Gannets, maybe.

Have a look at this video I found on YouTube to see what I mean. The music is pretty annoying and its filmed on a boat, but pelagic trips are where one expects close views of Gannets. On lucky days they’re close to shore, but I’ve not ever seen them feeding as close as my little group of beginners got to see yesterday.

I also got to ramble on about the huge stand of beach heather that Island Beach has, plus all the other nerdy stuff I know about plants. Nice to have a captive audience, I guess. Reminds me of being in the classroom in front of a group of sleepy 20 year-olds. Anyway… I’m encouraged and think I might be able to do this again sometime. In a pinch anyway.


Oh! This is especially for Susan. There was an older couple with us who are world travelers… going to Borneo to bird in a couple weeks then to some other exotic-sounding place. We got to talking about spring warblers and they said that THE place to be is Magee Marsh in early May. So I believe you now, Susan. Ohio’s on my list for someday.

Through the looking-glass

Just a short pause to pat myself on the back for three years of mostly consistent blogging… it’s been quite a ride!

I love this little place we’ve made together: me alternately skipping or stumbling with the things that make up an ordinary life; you there beside me or imagined quietly looking over my shoulder, commenting on this or that or something I might have missed.

Having someone to write for, to share stories and memories with, has made this worth doing every day. Life, mine and yours, is much more interesting when shared and reflected on in this way, don’t you think?

So… a heartfelt thanks for three years of friendship and for meeting me here most days to laugh or rant or even cry at the wonder of ordinary things.

Behind the scenes

I wonder if you’re like me: inclined to play with all the toys that make noise, preoccupied with lifting up the table skirt to understand how the trick works, tempted to wander where you shouldn’t, add various other forms of polite misbehavior to the list…


I’m not quite sure what I stumbled across here at the Grounds for Sculpture the other day, but it stopped me in my tracks as quickly as it tickled my imagination.

Can you imagine the fun to work in a place like this? Have characters instead of coworkers? Be able to tell a story by simply moving the frisbee player in front of the painter? Next to the guy with the camera?

At first glance it looked to be a loading area for newly arrived sculpture or something of a temporary graveyard for retired pieces…

But I couldn’t help feeling as if someone had arranged them just so for the whimsy of passerby… like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting… maybe a groundskeeper who secretly wants to study art history and tries his hand at creating a tableau from discarded stories.

Creepy! With pitchfork in hand, these two guarded the entrance to this place I wasn’t meant to see. At least I don’t think I was meant to see it…