Category Archives: writing

Captured Moment on the Journey

IMG_6496.JPGWe were on the boardwalk, looking over the savannah.  We’d just spotted two birds in the tall Florida grasses, just beyond a tree trunk and a clump of bushes. We all paused, trying to identify these two brown, long-tailed birds.

I could not make them out. What were they? Curious, I followed them when they flew away, startled by our movement. The others continued down the boardwalk, but I went in the opposite direction, hoping to get a closer look.

I did!  There they were, one clinging to the grass, the other perched in a bush. I tried to find it in my binoculars, confused at first by the clumps of leaves on the bush, until it’s round breast came clearly into view, proudly flashing in the sun.

White throat.  Slightly flat brown head.  White beak…not real long.  It occurs to me, this might be a migratory bird, since I didn’t know it right away.  Maybe it was a shrike?  But no; too brown.  Maybe an oriole?  No, wrong color scheme.

I puzzled for awhile, and finally, worried the others might get too far ahead, I moved on.  The boardwalk stretched out ahead of me, empty, bare, warmed by the sun.  I quickened my step, wondering how far they had gotten, then calmed myself, hearing their voices.

I slowed down again (at least in my own mind), wanting to hold on to that moment: The open savannah, the warm sun, the light getting a bit stronger as it rose higher in the sky.  I was aware of that in-between state of the present, with the pair of birds  behind me and the small flock in front of me, clutching cameras, binoculars, jackets.  They were in the future, this moment was the present, the unknown birds already in the past.

Such are the combined pleasures—and insights—of hiking on a trail, looking for birds, and slowing my stride to capture a moment of time.

Here.
In the bird-watching garden.

P.S. Bird list from the day: White-eyed vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, two great blue herons , red-wing blackbirds, mud hens, tri-colored heron, kingfisher, flock of ibis, pine warbler, voice of the pileated woodpecker!

(P.P.S. see more pictures and watch a video on our WWf(a)c Facebook page.)IMG_6493.JPG

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Interruption

IMG_5339About a month ago, I left my journal at a friend’s house, so I had to start a new one.  When I got the old one back, I started writing again where I’d left off.  I noticed a lot had happened in a month’s time.  So I wrote about it.  (Note: Journal technique: time capsule)

IMG_6135May 29, 2016

A lot has happened since I lost my journal.

  • I planned my first street protest.
  • I went to Santa Rosa, Florida, for a reunion with three dear friends, where I photographed purple flowers.
  • Despite our protest, the Zoning Committee of City Council voted to approve the zoning change to my neighborhood
  • I took the Journal to the Self series for the fourth time, this time facilitated by my friend and newly certified JTTS facilitator, Meg Rohal, so we can work together to expand the expressive writing community here in Jacksonville.IMG_5745.jpg
  • City Council also voted to approve the zoning change, with the exception of five key votes.
  • We began filing an appeal.
  • I went to Kanuga, North Carolina, for the 2016 Journal Conference and heard Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet laureate Natasha Trethewey.
  • My kids came home from college for the summer.
  • Camille got a job and is writing an article for Edible Northeast Florida!
  • Matt survived his freshman year at LSU!
  • I joined City Beautiful Jax as a board member.
  • I held a writing circle in the woods for a Write + Hike + Eat at Down to Earth Farm.
  • I wrote a table of contents for my new book idea.
  • I learned three new bird calls:  yellow-throated warbler, Eastern phoebe, song sparrow.
  • IMG_5836The downy woodpeckers in the back yard fledged the nest.
  • I decided I’m ready to finish setting up my bedroom, the last room in the house to get my attention since my move.
  • I’m helping to start a non-profit to help give citizens a stronger voice is our City’s zoning decisions.
  • I got closer on the redesign of my business brands (I’ve got four of them).
  • I planned my trip to Belgium (and Luxembourg, and Ireland, and Paris), for this summer, kicked off by Camille’s study abroad program in Paris.
  • Camille’s passport finally arrived in the mail!
  • I began planning ANOTHER street protest.

Now I’m headed to brunch at Community Loaves with Camille, where we will eat homemade bread and walk in the garden.

Life is good.
Here.
In the Riverside Garden.

IMG_5870.jpg

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East Wind Blowing

IMG_4878The robins are coming to life.  The loose flocks lurking around the neighborhood are now moving in, feasting on the red holly berries that just turned the proper degree of ripeness after January’s crisp nights.

The activity in the backyard this morning caught my eye as the robins darted from pine to holly and then back again, like trapeze artists in a circus performance.

A plump, speckled one suddenly landed on the fence, eyeing me as I came out the back door for a closer look.

Round, red breast.
Beady, black eye.
Fast, firm grip.

She contemplated me, pausing for a moment in the work of her life: to pluck ripe berries before making her way up North for nest-building time.  It’s a natural process that can’t be stopped; a force of nature that can’t avoided.

“You better be ready for a growth stage,” she seemed to say, eyeing me steadily.

I’m a bit surprised to find that I am.

IMG_4383As I look at the photos of the new house I covet—a cute cottage, just the right size, in just the right neighborhood—I realize I’m actually looking forward to change.  I’m not holding on to this place.  The bright red door of possibility is as warm and welcoming as the robin’s breast.

“Change is coming,” the robin told me. “You must learn to tolerate the strain.  Don’t let Change stomp all over you with clumsy work boots and thick soles.  Let Change gently blow you to your new destination, like the East wind that brought Mary Poppins to #17 Cherry Tree Lane.”

It’s true that change is inevitable, like the turn of the seasons, like the robins’ need to eat and  migrate, like the balmy spring that will follow the frozen winter of my heart.

Spring is my favorite season, after all.  Perhaps I can tuck its blooms into my own red breast and get ready to migrate to my new home.

Here.
In the garden.

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I Hung Curtain Rods on Christmas Eve

IMG_2683We’d hoped to get to the Christmas Eve service, but when my dad realized it was at 7 p.m., not at midnight, I think the plan started to fall apart in his head.

Frankly, he’d rather hang curtain rods.

I’d given him a very long list of of repairs to do when he arrived to spend Christmas week with me this year.  The kids were visiting their dad in Texas, and we had a lot to accomplish before they returned home. Although I’m fairly competent with a screwdriver, making those small, time-consuming household repairs has been a bit beyond me since my divorce.  I used to have contractors take care of all that — which was, in and of itself, a lot to manage.  Now I work with a more modest budget and mostly my own two hands.

Which is how I found myself at Lowe’s on Christmas Eve, in the faucet repair aisle, while my dad was at home fixing the plumbing under my bathroom sink. It was my third trip to Lowe’s in three days, and I was down to a sink gasket, a #2 screwdriver, and a curtain rod.

IMG_3016I asked the woman standing next to me scouring the same rack what SHE was doing at Lowe’s on Christmas Eve. She informed me, rather matter-of-factly, that all of her family members were in Chicago, so she did not have any Christmas Eve plans except home improvement.

Horrified by the loneliness of that statement, I scurried away, glad to be going home to my Dad. I might be hanging curtain rods on Christmas Eve, but at least I was doing it with family.

When I got back, Dad was just finishing up the plumbing job, which had required him to spend a lot of time on his back under the sink. At 85 years old, this was no small feat.  I admired his fortitude, and wondered aloud if I should put the trout in the oven to cook while I jumped into the shower and dressed for the service.

Dad admitted that, actually, he really didn’t want to go anyway.  He’d rather take a hike on Christmas Day for something special and just finish up the open jobs that night.

IMG_3019What a relief!  My shoulders loosened and I celebrated by taking a little extra time to whip up a rather delicious Hollandaise sauce for the broccoli.  The trout browned nicely in the oven and I set the table with the Limoges china from my mother, gold-rimmed stemware from my grandmother, recently gifted silverware from my sister.  It was nice to think of all of them being present with us while we sat down to enjoy our meal.

After dinner, I put a homemade crumb-top apple pie in the oven as our intended reward for the evening’s tasks, and we headed upstairs for the curtain rod job.

Which came out beautifully.
So did the pie.

When we sat down together just before midnight to warm pie and cold ice cream, I was glad that we had stayed home instead of rushing to the service.  I might’ve pushed it, on my own, driven by that old desire to do it all and then some. But sometimes, I’ve learned, the best way for me to “honor thy Father” — and my own self — is by keeping it simple.

My dad takes his first selfie ever on our Christmas Day hike in Guana Reserve.

My dad takes his first selfie ever during our Christmas Day hike in Guana Reserve.

I sent the kids a Merry Christmas text before I went to bed, so as not to intrude upon their Christmas Eve activities with their dad, and fell asleep content, with visions of apple pie, curtain rods, and repaired plumbing dancing in my head.

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Early Morning Fall Mist

photo

photo by @dalbacky on instagram http://instagram.com/dalbacky

I just peeped outside the front door, through the leaded glass panes, and saw a thin bank of mist out there.

Reminds me of the mist on the farm where I grew up, hanging low in the valley around the house and barn early in the morning.

Mist makes the world mysterious, briefly transforming it into something special — and then it’s gone again, a small gift only for early risers.

Through the back door I see a female cardinal at a feeder that’s been empty all summer. The season is changing, and plants and animals are in a different relationship with each other. Perhaps the birds are starting to stock up again on my bird seed, prepping for winter.

Fall mornings these days include me urging Matthew out the door on time for school — which didn’t work out today. It also includes walking the dog, perhaps with a slight coolness in the air, looking about us as we go, searching for signs of the turning season.

Or is it me that’s turning, entering the fall season of MY life?
The thought lingers, like a thin mist, lying low in my garden.
Maybe.
Or maybe not quite yet.

Here.
In the garden.

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Bird By Bird: On A Quest for the Summer Tanager

I decided to go on a quest for a summer tanager today.

I’m having a “staycation” while the kids are out of town, so, outdoor adventures close to home are in order.

Last week's run through the woods...aka, "Walking Under Raccoons," or, "Touched by a Swallowtail," or "Wish I had bug repellant with me."

Last week’s run through the woods…aka, “Walking Under Raccoons,” or, “Touched by a Swallowtail,” or “Sure wish I had bug repellant with me.”

On last week’s adventure, I ran through Guana Reserve, where I spotted “giant garden spiders, an armadillo, two white-tailed deer, a raccoon in the trees I walked under, a hawk nest, a white cloud butterfly, a swallowtail butterfly, an impassable flooded trail, snakes in the grass, ticks, fiddler crabs, leaping frogs, lizards, birds, and that was enough,” as I noted on Instagram.

This week, I hit the Guana Wildlife Preserve, where my new photographer friend Don Christian said I might spot the tanagers.  “Just head for the oaks and keep looking up in the trees!” he said.

I was thrilled to hear that I might be able to see these mysterious creatures!  I am in love with tanagers.  Last summer I happened upon several scarlet tanagers in the mature woods of the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was practically euphoric.

My son, Matthew, and I have had summer tanagers on our “watch list” for a few years now, but, I never knew where to find them.

Now I do.

deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

Deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

So, I packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly, scribbled the directions in my journal, stocked up with water, two cameras, natural bug repellant (I HATE that stuff but this was necessary!), my phone, and a song in my heart.

So, this is what “following your bliss” feels like, eh?

But first, the run.  I planned to combine bird-watching AND running the trails.  (p.s. this is not really good for spotting birds).  I figured I would run first, THEN come back with the camera.

Well, it wasn’t great for bird-watching per se, but, I did get to see lots of other things:  beautiful Florida oak groves, many swallowtails, fiddler crabs, and lots and lots and LOTS of flies, mosquitos and horseflies.  But hey — no ticks!  (So far, anyway).

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Once again, as I got to the outer reaches, and took a wrong turn, and ended up further away than I thought, I did say to myself, Hmmm…why DO I have to do everything so hard?  As I turned into a grassy section, the signs said the trails sometimes flood.  Did that stop me?  Oh, no.  I just went deeper and deeper in the woods.

I was on a quest, you see.

Well, eventually, the flooding did stop me, so, I had to turn around.  But that’s when I bumped into the baby armadillo!  Such a cutie!  He was hunched up in the grass, as if he was thinking,  “Hey, if I cover my head, maybe she won’t see me!”  But I sure did, and stopped running long enough to take out my phone and snap a shot — even though the lens was steamed up.  I got super close and he untucked his head and looked up at me, with his cute little pink ears and  sweet face.  I smiled and kept going.

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Finally, I reached the parking lot again, and took out my camera for the “bird watch” part.  I thought I had heard an Eastern towhee in the pine section, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  Needed the telescope lens of the camera.

So, very quietly, with a LOT more bug spray on me, I headed down the trails.  I saw a weird lizard with something in it’s mouth, which I now realize was a bug he just ate.  Ewww!  I saw a delightful blue bee, a green dragonfly, wildflowers, a painted lady butterfly, and a lovely brown moth.

I spotted a baby cardinal, sitting shyly behind a branch.  I heard bullfrogs.  And I spotted something high up in the trees…yessss…it was…an Eastern towhee!

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same "drink your tea" as they have on my birdsong CD...maybe a Florida version?

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same “drink your tea” as recorded on my birdsong CD…maybe a Florida version?

OK, not a tanager.  BUT, this was the first towhee I ever located on my own, and was able to photograph!  So, that was plenty exciting for me.

So now, I guess I just have to go back, and see if I can get the tanager.  I’ll keep listening to Stan Tekiela’s CDs on “Birds Of Florida,” to try to recognize the tanager song.

But I’ve got one more bird to check off my Life List, and I’m plenty happy with that.

Here.
In the Florida garden.

 

Painted lady

Painted lady

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Actually, I DO like spiders and snakes!

After an indoor labyrinth walk yesterday in Ponte Vedra, instead of heading home, I headed toward Guana Beach, called by the promise of remote beach and undisturbed beauty.

I needed a little “wild” time.

Guana River State Park is a mostly pristine coastal scrub ecosystem, according to the signs in the parking lot at the third beach entrance (my favorite because it’s the most remote). As I headed to the beach from almost empty parking lot, I paused and observed the wildness of the brush along the walkway.

That’s when I spotted an enormous black-and-yellow garden spider making its web. I marveled at its giant body nimbly sliding down long threads and then picking its way back up again, completely absorbed in its work.

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

My face was about 18 inches away, and when a breeze blew the web a bit closer, I found myself stepping back — and then noticed an even bigger spider, with an even more fortified web, sitting quietly in the middle of a long zig-zag of threads.  This one was about 4 inches long, the other was about 3 inches. And, there were two more  “smaller” spiders (two inches) hanging nearby (I later learned these were males).

It was  a little bit of wild, right under my nose.

Satisfied by this glimpse of wildness, I continued to the beach, which was sprinkled with just a few folks. I noticed the dappled sand, still imprinted with the many drops of the recent hard rain.  The waves ran up to the roughness, tickled it, and then ran back.  Two plovers walked in the water just ahead, keeping a wary eye on me.

I took a few pictures and thought, I should tag these, “#OhYeah! #ILiveAtTheBeach!”  I felt grateful to be there.

Remote beach at Guana.  A little bit of wild.

Remote beach at Guana. A little bit of wild.

Back in the parking lot, still wanting a bit more wild, I got closer to a cardinal singing its evening song at the top of a dead branch among the salt-curved tree tops.  Then I walked to the edge of the parking lot, looking for more interesting wild stuff.

I found it.

In the most remote corner, I saw another giant spider, this one even bigger, building its web.  Behind it was another, and then another, and then another, and I suddenly realized, Oh my God, there are hundreds of them, covering every few feet of the wild scrub under the oak trees! This is a truly wild and remote corner. THIS is what wild nature looks like!

Maybe spiders horrify you.  (Remember the song, “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes?”) They don’t horrify me, though I did not care to get TOO close (except to take pictures).  I was thrilled to see them, actually.  I was thrilled to see what “wild nature” looks like, when it’s forgotten, untouched, and unmolested by human hands.

I drove home a little lighter, relieved to know that there are a few places left in Jax that are pesticide-, litter-, and developer-free.

Here.
In the garden.

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