Gipsy gold

Gipsy gold does not chink and glitter. It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark.” ~attributed to the Claddaugh Gypsies of Galway

I’ll leave you for a few days with an image from North Dakota that’s captured my memory and a small part of my imagination.

Pasture horses. Not the usual pampered racing thoroughbreds I see everyday here in NJ. These were full of curiosity… alarming, almost, in the way they surrounded us when we came upon them. There’s a story to tell, but I haven’t exactly found the way, yet.

I love horses; it’s irrational of me… I’m not some country girl, after all. I don’t want a horse; I just want to be able to look at them. Seeing them makes me wish I knew how to work clay in my hands.

That first morning in North Dakota, I was awake before the sun came up. It was my birthday. I was outside in the near dark, barefoot in the wet grass, wondering at my good luck. The sky was so filled with stars… I could see the Milky Way and birds were waking up around me… strange sounds, but ones that would soon become familiar there… Clay-Colored Sparrow and Western Meadowlark and Common Snipe.

There were unseen horses closeby; I could hear their snorting and soft nickering in the dark.



Heading to the High Peaks

I’ve hardly made it through half of what I want to tell you about my trip to the prairie and already I’m off to the mountains!


I’m leaving on Friday for a couple days in the Adirondacks; one of my most favorite places. It’s a trip for birds, ostensibly anyway, but the fact is that I’ve already seen most of the specialty birds the area has to offer on past trips there. Except for Spruce Grouse and that’s a long shot, as even the trip leaders admit. I have wonderful memories of Evening Grosbeaks, Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, Winter Wrens, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Ravens, and Black-backed Woodpeckers. I don’t much care what birds I see this time. So long as I see some, of course!

I’m more looking forward to hearing the cry of a loon or seeing the spruce and tamaracks mirrored in a lonely pond. Standing at the summit of Whiteface Mountain with alpine plants at my feet and Lake Champlain and Quebec off in the distance, while Bicknell’s Thrush sings somewhere below me. Waking to morning mist rising from the lake outside my door. Paddling that lake for an hour or two between birding and dinner. Watching the stars for a few quiet hours each night…

I’ve never been to Sea World…

so dolphins in the neighborhood are pretty exciting… life mammal!

They’re not supposed to be here, certainly not in the river where they’ve been seen for the last week or so. Given the odd geography of Sandy Hook Bay and this summer’s early warm water temps, it’s thought that they took a detour into the Shrewsbury River by mistake. Fish and Wildlife is concerned with the upcoming 4th of July holiday (and the 20,000 plus boats it brings to my neighborhood) that the dolphins may need to be ushered back into the bay so they can safely find their way back to the open ocean.

Do you believe in magic?

My dad was cremated with a dollar bill in his pocket; the same dollar he’d carried in his wallet for some thirty-five plus years. Being sure that dollar stayed with him, even then, was a meaningful act on the part of my brothers and I. A ritual we observed.

The dollar bill was something like a talisman to my dad. It had been given to him as a form of repayment by his first-born son, my brother Neil, sometime before he died as a child from aplastic anemia. My dad never was able to tell me what exactly Neil was repaying him for, without becoming tearful and angry, so that part of the story is lost to me. But I’d always understood the sentiment behind him carrying it in his wallet all those years.

I have a few such talismans myself; physical signs of relationships with people and places and experiences. Symbols of connection and reconnection, union and reunion with what is sacred to me. Carried in a pocket or wallet, worn around my neck or on a finger, secreted away in shoeboxes and drawers.

Parting with any of them would be difficult for me; each has its story, each is connected to some important event or place in my life. Each is the physical proof that I believe in magic; that I honor the ritual of rememberance.

To describe any of it or try explaining it would, perhaps, lessen the magic. Someday though, these keepsakes of mine will be found, and someone will wonder what they were about.

Think about the things you surround yourself with. Look on you and around you. Your closet, the jewelry box, your purse, your wrist, the desk where you spend hours each day. Much of what others might see as simple adornment or, heaven forbid, dust-collectors may really represent the power of love and rememberance. Tokens of an on-going connection, rituals of place and time and people.

I propose that we should choose one object from that treasure chest of memory and share it with someone else… best if it can be a person directly related to the keepsake. Dust it off and polish the memory… tell what it is that provokes your imagination so, tell why it has such power for you, tell what makes it magic.


Straight out of the field guide

The ecstatic upland plover, hovering overhead, poured praises on something perfect: perhaps the eggs, perhaps the shadows, or perhaps the haze of pink phlox that lay on the prairie.” –Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

God I love it when birds do what they’re supposed to… and then pose for pix while at it!


We’d nearly missed this roadside Upland Sandpiper as we chased the tour bus along the prairie trail heading to Chase Lake NWR, but a quick stop and then a very slow progression forward, all the while hoping the bird wouldn’t fly off, let me have my fill of pix hanging out the sunroof of the car like a crazed photographer. I got lots of nice pics, but this one is today’s favorite.

Not a life bird for me, but I couldn’t have asked for any nicer looks at it. Can’t you just imagine it soaring high in the blue skies of a North Dakota spring, its long, drawn out song drifting down over a sunny meadow…

Escaping along with everyone else

I almost didn’t go to the Pine Barrens today when this was what greeted me at the entrance to the Parkway. Ughh… shore traffic. I was committed, at least until the next exit some five miles further south, but thankfully the standstill was due to an accident and the traffic cleared just when I could have made my exit.

An hour or so later this beetle caught my eye as it meandered through the sand and grass while I sat in the car eating my lunch. I stepped out for a pic, leaving the remainder of my sandwich unattended, and came back to find the sandwich gone. Had I mentioned that Luka was along for this adventure? Anyone care to save me the trouble of looking it up in a field guide? It reminds me of the beetle in the header at Mutual Casualty but I don’t know that one either.

As often happens with a visit to the barrens, I happen upon something accidentally that I’d purposefully searched for at some prior visit. Today it was two wildflowers that I’d endured a sweaty deer-fly infested hike searching for early last summer. This one is Swamp Candle; a yellow loosestrife that can grow so abundantly in cranberry bogs that it gives a pretty yellowish haze to the bog. It’s considered a nuisance in commercially operated bogs, but I was happy to find it today.

This one made me really happy – orange milkwort – showy and impossible to miss. On my knees taking pics I also found a blooming thread-leaved sundew and a few other tiny little wildflowers that I haven’t made up an ID for yet.

The water in the bogs is controlled by dikes and in those places where it was fast flowing there were ebony jewelwings patrolling the margins. A beautiful damselfly, I think; very fluttery and nice.
My idea with bringing Luka along on this particular adventure was so that he could do some swimming at our favorite hidden spot along Cedar Creek. Turns out our secret swimming hole is better known than I’d realized – the place was packed with paddlers stopping for a swim, too. Some were kind enough to amuse Luka with a really big stick. Turns out he’s a good swimmer since our last visit in the fall.

The cranberries are blooming now and I was surprised to see quite so many beehives along the dikes. Each field of 3 active bogs had a stack like this, busy with honeybees keeping Ocean Spray in business. Luka had a tussle with a bunch of them while I paying attention to something else – there was much fussing and rolling in the sand – but I don’t think he was stung more than a couple times. Dopey dog!

Cranberry flowers are very tiny and the plants grow *wild* along the margins of most cedar streams in the barrens; a particular delight of paddling there in the fall is the chance to sample a couple. The same plant is cultivated commercially and then harvested just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. The flower is deeply lobed and curled back on itself to expose the stamens. Early settlers saw the neck, head and beak of a crane and so called it *crane-berry*.

Another beautiful day in one of my favorite places. Plus, Luka’s tuckered out, finally.


Drama in the driveway

I’d thought there must be a cat prowling through the garden with all the fuss the robins and bluejays were making. I went outside, flip-flop in hand (they’re excellent flung at neighborhood strays) and found that the fuss was due to a red-tail on our roof. Strange, I thought. It flew to the black locust in the neighbor’s yard and I watched it for a while and cheered the robins for their bravery in dive-bombing it.

An hour or so later the DH whispered, “Come here, quick!” from beside the kitchen window. The red-tail was back, this time on the ground, high-stepping through the grass beside the driveway. Hawks look so out of their element on the ground, don’t they?

Then I noticed the tiny wriggling baby bunnies on the driveway. Three in all, spread out beneath my car, one in the shadow of a tire.

Hmmm. What to do?

Dutifully, bunny-lover that I am, I stepped out the door and the red-tail flew off to the neighbor’s roof.

The nest had been dug weeks ago and then abandoned. Too close, I’d thought, to Luka’s run of the yard. Looking inside it now, I found two newborn kits in the middle of a hastily covered scrape. Following the trail of newborn bunnies under the car, I saw the mother rabbit crouched beneath the transmission.

I returned the babies to their nest and wondered what had happened. Was the mother interrupted in her birthing by the hawk – does that explain two in the nest and three others spread out in the driveway? Had the hawk discovered the nest and the momma bunny caught in the middle of moving them somewhere safe? Was the hawk on the ground after the babies or the mother? Odd the mysteries that play themselves out if we’re paying attention, I think.

I wonder if they’ll survive, if the mother will come back to nurse them as she should. I wonder, too, that the red-tail won’t come back.

Meme on Thursday

Feeling lazy… perfect time for a silly meme.

1. Over 21? Yes
2. Danced in front of your mirror naked? (Laugh)
3. Ever told a lie? Yes
4. Been arrested? No
5. Kissed a picture? Yes
6. Fallen asleep at work/school? Yes
7. Held an actual snake? No
8. Ever run a red light? Yes
9. Ever drink and drive? No
10. Been suspended from school? Yes
11. Ever been fired from a job? No
12. Totaled a car/motorbike in an accident? No
13. Sang karaoke? God, no
14. Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t? Yes
15. Laughed until something you were drinking came out your nose? Yes
16. Ever gone “under the knife?” No
17. Driven cross country? No
18. Caught a snowflake on your tongue? Yes
19. Kissed in the rain? Yes
20. Sang in the shower? No
21. Sat on a rooftop? Yes
22. Been to a foreign country in which you didn’t speak the language? No
23. Thought about your past with regret? Yes
24. Been pushed in the pool with your clothes on? Yes
25. Skinny dipped? No
26. Shaved your head? No
27. Blacked out from drinking? No
28. Had a gym membership? Yes
29. Been in a band? No
30. Fired a gun? No
31. Liked someone with nobody else knowing about it? Yes
32. Played strip poker? No
33. Been to a strip joint? No
34. Donated Blood? No
35. Liked someone you shouldn’t? Yes
36. Have a tattoo? No
37. Been to jail? No
38. Have or had any piercings? Yes
39. Made out with a complete stranger? No
40. Had a one night stand? No
41. Caught someone cheating on you? Yes
42. Felt like dying? Yes, when I had my wisdom teeth out
43. Regret any of your ex’s? Yes
44. Been to a rodeo? No
45. Been to a NASCAR race? God no
46. Been in love? Yes
47. Met a celebrity? No
48. Been on TV? No
49. Know how to cook? (Laugh)
50. Like motorcycles? No
51. Bungee jumped, skydived, based jumped, etc? No
52. Slept outdoors? Yes
53. Spent the night in a snow cave? No, sounds fun though
54. Thought you were going to drown? Yes
55. Play an instrument? Yes

Um… I think maybe Susan needs something to do.


Indian paintbrush

Not the breathtaking scarlet, orange and yellow prairie flowers I was expecting, a rather more pallid view, but spring was slow in coming to North Dakota this year and the wildflowers were a few weeks behind schedule. A hint of color is just beginning to show on a few of the bracts in this pic and the leaves are shaped something like birds’ feet.

Indian Paintbrush is sort of interesting in that it’s partially parisitic – it derives some of its nutrients from other plants. Common hosts are little bluestem, blue-eyed grass and prairie smoke. There are at least 200 different species that are near impossible to separate from one another.

(End of geeky plant interlude)

An epiphany!

This will likely turn into a rant, so if you’re not in the mood for that, just click away and try back tomorrow.


Today’s my brother’s birthday, btw. He lurks here and leaves snarky comments occasionally. Happy Birthday, Kev! In case you’ve forgotten, you’re still older than me. Ha!

(That used to seem like a good thing, didn’t it?)

I don’t know why it is, but most of the people I’ve really hit it off with through the years were born in June,like me,and are Geminis. I sometimes think it’s a wonder we can stand each other, but as they say: it takes one to know one.

One of my most favorite Geminis is Deb from work. We don’t work together in the same unit anymore, unfortunately, but have lunch once in a while and generally try to distract each other from boring paperwork for a few minutes each week. We used to go to lunch together every single day at the same place and eat the same thing, but that’s another story. We’d planned to have lunch last Friday for our birthdays, but she left me a message that morning to say that she had to cancel because she really had to get her nails and eyebrows done and that she was really sorry, but we’d have to reschedule. Priorities, you know. An hour or so later she left another message to say that she couldn’t get an appointment and if I wasn’t too pissed she’d like to go to lunch after all. Otherwise, she really needed to shop for a new bathing suit. Pfft! Great friend, huh?

(That all had nothing to do with the point of this post, sorry.)

So. We had lunch at her current every single day, eat the exact same thing place and it was lovely and we caught up with each other for the time being.

I walked out of the office kinda grumpy this afternoon and ran into Deb on her way out, too. She picked up on my mood pretty quickly and before we made it to the parking lot I was ranting at her about how I was tired of being yelled at by clients and landlords and pulled in a million directions at once. Tired, too, of screwing things up. Tired of having to ask someone how to do things. Tired of finding out, after, from someone different, that I’d been told to do it wrong. And made to feel foolish for it.

(Feeling foolish makes me grumpy, generally.)

Deb knows me. Knows my sore spots… and isn’t afraid to pester them, either. Know what she said?

“Don’t take yourself so seriously, Laura.”

Huh? Me?

She wandered off to her car and I thanked her for the reminder and then stood in the parking lot like a dope for a minute or two… sort of amazed that it was that obvious to her, that easy to read…

She’s absolutely right, though. I take myself way too seriously, usually. At work, especially. Foolish of me. I needed to hear that. Will probably need to hear it again, tomorrow.

Remind me, if she doesn’t, before I get too full of myself.

(I got flowers today, btw. Not sure what in the world I did to deserve that.)