Land Flowing for Footed Feathers

20150919_132933Since moving to the charming Ouachita Mountains, I have not held back from exploring the region. As an outdoor enthusiast, I feel right at home in Arkansas and have adopted the land and the people as my own. With thirty-seven state parks, I’ll be busy for some time.

This weekend, I went for the first time to Lake Ouachita State Park, located about twelve miles northwest of Hot Springs. The Caddo Bend Trail is four miles long exactly. The visitor’s map says it is approximately four miles, but along the way, markers indicate the length hiked, and it accurately corresponded with my GPS step counter, ending four miles right at my car parked at the trail head. The map guide also says it takes about three hours to hike, which I did in an hour and fifteen minutes, stopping and taking photos along the way. Although the terrain has steep ascents, the more difficult level rests in the the loose rocks, roots, and boulders on the path, making your footing unstable.

20150919_131437As I began, I noted the dry atmosphere, reminding me more of the Arizona desert. Dusty, rocky, treeless nearly, debris everywhere, logs scattered across the forest floor. I had been hiking the area on different trails all summer and had not come across this environment. The trails I hiked were heavily treed, shady, cooler because of it, and the paths looked like the forest fairies came each night and swept the trail clean and clear. I was feeling a little disappointed in Lake Ouachita’s management, knowing this is one of the most popular destinations in Arkansas.20150919_132208

However, my goal was to hike them all and take notes. The trail snaked through the forest of hardwoods, pines, and hickories along the south-facing shoreline of the lake. The vegetation, synonymous with the dry climate, had low bushes to the ground, woodsy, and brown and yellow in color. At the first mile marker, my peanut brain was enlightened. I read, in 2011, a tornado swept across the point stretching into the lake, uprooting the old growth forest to start over. It’s as if I crossed over into another world, for the canopy became richer, the trail cooler, and the forest floor greener.

The lichen covered boulders along the Caddo Bend trail.

The lichen covered boulders along the Caddo Bend trail.

The Caddo Bend Trail had its own flavor, unlike anything I had ventured on in the area, primarily the rock formations dominating the ground. Quartz, shale, sandstone, and limestone covered in gray and green lichen gave texture and color to the predominate leaf mulch, limb debris, and low, scrubby flora saturating the forest floor. In fact, there were so many boulders piled upon one another, I lost track of the trail, then noticed yellow arrows pointed the way through the resistant to impact, unfixed route.

The Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Ouachita River in 1953 to control flooding, creating Lake Ouachita. The lake covers 40,000 surface acres, is about thirty miles long, and has about 975 miles of shoreline. The lake has freshwater jellyfish, shoreline caves with quartz outcroppings, and pristine, clear, and clean water with good visibility for divers, reaching to depths of two-hundred feet. There are numerous islands in the lake to explore with the possibility to see bald eagles, fox, beaver, bobcat, white tailed deer, coyote, and wild turkey.

As I rounded the point to the north side, just past the first foot bridge, I heard what sounded like a man chopping wood. The sound resonated from the canopy above me, and I spotted the culprit pounding the hard tree like he owned it. The Pileated Woodpecker stabbed the tree, ascending it like a corkscrew. In the distance, a wuk-wuk sounded off and the little feller above me responded in like, then flew away. 20150919_140408These birds fascinate me because of their size, and although common, this is only the second one I have seen.

Leaving the untouched forest, I crossed once again into the tornado damaged desert-like environment and felt the sweat on my body evaporate. I guess tornadoes are as much a part of Nature as the beloved trees, streams, and beasts clinging to the land, but I wonder if it is man’s impact on the environment upsetting the climate more than average. The docile contrast of the land to the climate makes up a binary which fits in with man’s own frivolous identities leaving me to question the legitimacy of nature’s destruction. I feel the peace in the woods, unlike the chaos of the city, and no matter what natural phenomenon disrupts the harmony existing in Nature, her core is that she means no harm.

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Living the Bird Life

There’s not much a non-birder can add to a conversation with birders about birds. “Some birds are pretty,” doesn’t fly. That comment rolls off the back of birders like air past a wing, so I kept my bird(less)brain comments to myself. I have to admit, the solitariness of being a no20150607_075823n-birder amongst birders has its advantages. I could deviate from my sister’s agenda a bit and do my own thing. The best of both “old world warblers.” Don’t get me wrong, the hunt for THAT one bird was exciting. Like a treasure hunt, the adventure is almost as rewarding as the prize. With birds, once its found, the adrenaline dies quickly. A check mark, a picture, and a visual are all that’s bagged. Of course, I had no “bennies” (binoculars) and see poorly as it is, so my perspective was more a black, brown or white blur, sometimes bigger, sometimes just a flutter. After I identified three or four pine cones, I realized birders must have a special sixth sense for distinguishing a limb and a leaf from an Izu leaf and a chestnut bulbul, or maybe them fancy bennies had something to do with it.

While my family members collected sightings, I collected state park maps: Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Collier-Seminole State Park, Bahia Honda State Park, and on the Garden Key, The Dry Tortugas, the highlight 20150609_161649of our bird tour. The crew opted to take the sea plane to the island 70 miles into the Gulf in lieu of the ferry. I was one with the birds for a moment as we flew across the shallow waters known as the “Flats” of the Florida Keys to the isolated island full of rare birds. Although I didn’t notice the sea turtles like most of the birders, I got a good visual on Mel Fisher’s ship wreck with its mast sticking above the water.

The Dry Tortugas contains Fort Jefferson, built as an military outpost to protect “Atlantic bound Mississippi River trade.” It was never finished, but covers 11 acres of the island. I did find a parrot on the island. He was sitting on the shoulder of the Visitor Center’s clerk. I can cross that one off. Green bird, Parrot, so I was told.

As our two hour visit came to a close, I took a break from my touring of the fort and snorkeling and went to spy on the birders hovering near Bush Key which was closed to visitors and where the majority of birds hung out. This east end of the island was infested with the creature20150609_164540s, zooming and diving over the water like a newly hatched bunch of mosquito larvae. The birders had set up camp close to the “closed off” sign with their mega scope pointed towards the end of the island. I sensed banality, boredom, as I approached, but that was not it. The birders had met their match. The plethora of gulls, and the subtle similarities left them frustrated as verification could not be certain. Looking at the swarm hovering over the land mass, I had a feeling of eeriness as if I were to walk past that “closed off” sign and step into an alien world. I suppose that’s what I had done when I jumped on board this flight around Florida, becoming an alien amongst natives. Like Ponce de Leon, explorer extraordinaire, I discovered birders live like the Aves they watch, searching for a seed to live and thrive. They really do.

Three Rare Birds and a Novelist

They’re not “bird watchers,” they’re birders, so they say. I’m learning the lingo. BV, Black Vulture. GBH, Great Blue Heron. There are Right Terns, not left. They don’t like my playing around with their terms. This is serious business.

I’m the fourth member, a non-birder, of the bird tour 2015 with my birding father, sister, and brother-in-law. Quite the “sight” we are! They, with their cameras and scopes the size of baby whales, and me with my smart phone camera and memo pad, set out in New Port Ritchey, Florida, for a ten day bird-a-thon to find the “lifers.”

At 6 am, we pulled out of the driveway, but not before IDing the early morning mockingbird to get their number count started. The poor mockingbird used like a baby mama, counting on it to always be there, everywhere. My comments, “Look, white bird!” or “Hey Y’all! Black bird on a wire,” fell flat like a duck on the pond opening day of hunting season. I did, however, adapt, and used BOW, bird on a wire, copiously throughout the drive to get a rise, and I spawned new acronyms, BIA, bird in air, and BOG, bird on ground, to assimilate my position into the bird world.  A “lesser” one.

We went to Oscar Scherer State Park to find the Florida Scrub Bluejay, a sure thing, and walked the sandy trail through the Florida scrub habitat.  My required Florida flip flops were required, my sister says, and we walked past the tour group looking for THE bird. Cardinals and Bluejays were abundant, but the lifer bird kept his distance. There was a hearing, not a sighting, and this identification led me to question the veracity of this list. This agenda. This competition to identify the 977 birds in North America. It’s on the honor system. After listening to the professionals for a day’s drive to Key West, I wondered whether this competition, this race to find all the “lifers,” was the real thing. It seemed so ambiguous. Someone claims they saw a Snail Kite near the Miccosukkee Indian Reservation or Shark Valley from birdbrain.usf.com and birders from afar “flock” like geese to the locale for a sighting.

My sister pulled out her scope and set up and scanned the horizon. Dad claims he saw the kite not long after their arrival as my sister peered through the lens for the black bird with a white stripe in its tail. The hour layover is a dud as no decision can be made about the sighting. Was it there or not? Can they cross off the lifer or not? Droopy chins and shoulders contemplated its presence. They left in doubt. I left in doubt.

We headed from the Everglades towards Key West and was delayed by a traffic accident in Marathon that backed up the two lane road for ten miles. As we sat trapped on Hwy 1, a BOW was sighted and the crew tagged a Great King Bird, making up for the failure to see the Scrub Bluejay in Sarasota. I found a small wheel and a dead fish off the bridge as I stretched my legs in the standstill as Dad and I sighted a barracuda in the gulf below the bridge. As we passed through Marathon, Key Deer were grazing in the median, and we pulled off illegally to take a snapshot.

Santa Maria Suites, our hotel in Key West, was luxury exemplified with its contemporary style, and we washed the grunge from our armpits and tucked in, ready for the next bird day. Fifteen hours on the road, fifty-two bird identifications, and four weary eyes “terned” in their nests until the morning sun called on the fowls once more.  My inauguration into the bird world left me fluttering for words to describe my first bird day. I broke my way through the eggshell, broke the pro/green separation, and recorded my lifer story. My birder adventure. My orinthology education. My family reunion. My big bird extravaganza.

 

 

 

It’s official…

Back from my hiatus at grad school, I am now an educated English writer/speaker/reader person.  It only means that all words in written format receive scrutiny as I pass my eyes before them, whereas before, I delightfully resided in an oblivious state of decrepit letters and punctuation.  On the other hand, my creative gene desires to artfully construct those same unintentional maladies that connote freedom from structure that ones subconsciously convey as an example of our evolving language.  I have an inclination to use these words as my paintbrush and play with color.  Finger paint!  Oh, but now, I must manage my strokes carefully, intelligently, be responsible.  I’ve backed myself into the professional corner while I’m staring at the group on the other side of the room “having fun” dropping paint everywhere.  They surely aren’t looking over at me with my cans stacked in rows, colors by tone from dark to light, no drips on the sides.  How prudish they think!  Nyet say moi!  Imma gonna takea my stack and dump it in the middle, get the attention of the fun people, then swim in the mess, and when I’m covered in all that color, I will plaster myself to the wall and roll, make prints everywhere, and call it my postmodern stamp.

Summer Hurdles

I’ve been in a kind of blank zone lately.  I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, it’s more like stuffed fuzzy head syndrome (zombie-ish).  Haven’t been able to conjure a word with another word for two weeks; this is the first.  I think I’ve discovered the reason.  I went to the doctor today and found out I have a ruptured eardrum.  Yeah, my ears have been kind of hurting for the last two months, but it was a subtle pain that I’ve ignored. Woke up with a sore throat three days ago and couldn’t take it anymore!  Thought it was the aging process because I couldn’t hear a word anyone said.  “You talkin’ to me dear?  I can’t hear you over the water running in the sink and the t.v. blaring.”  Or so I thought.  I suppose our little family unit would not have been complete today without my discovery – my contribution.

            The boys, both, were stung by wasps today.  My oldest son’s eye is swollen shut and my middle child’s lip is the size of a tube of lipstick; well, just one half of it.  Oh, and the coup de grâce was when my husband poured gasoline on the smoldering fire (a while back) and it blew up in his face.  Not to worry, he survived and is getting about giddily now, but was down for a time while the burns on his legs healed.  All this summer time fun is overwhelming.  Scooter, the new puppy, mutilated the spring chick, i.e. killed it, and we are down to one.  Everyone is having their day.

            I foresee July as a month of recovery.  Husband will be hobbling along dandy; the kids will have forgotten they ever had swollen faces, and I will have recovered the energy that has alluded me since the beginning of May, wondering if this is what middle age feels like.  Go away middle age, I’m not ready for you.  I thought you had me, but it was a ploy by the bacterial union to detract me from the real reason for my languid state.  Ten days from now when all of my antibiotic medicine has been consumed, I will revive.  I will revive. 

Coffee Chronicles Part II: Old Coffee is Yummy

I’m sure you can’t imagine further obstruction by my husband surrounding the coffee pot, but alas it is true; it is possible, nay credible.  I have this “waste not, want not” ideology, it’s the mom in me I suppose, but more often than not, if there is coffee left over from the day before when I wake up in the morning, I drink the old before I offer myself a new cup.  This may seem absurd to you I know.  You may reason that if every morning I drink an “old” cup before a fresh cup, if I were to start the day with a fresh cup, there would be no old cups left.  But hear me out.  If the old cup happens to be, let’s say, Starbuck’s Italian Roast, then I’d prefer Starbuck’s old stuff to fresh cheap stuff (well, not so cheap, but not so expensive) depending on, of course, how long the coffee pot was left on the day before.  Our new pot doesn’t automatically turn off after two hours and we sometimes smell coffee burning in the late afternoon, ruining my chances for an old cup the next morning.  Surely I would have purchased an automatic shutoff pot, but my husband bought the thing and my daughter picked it out.  She wanted the purple one.  I’m digressing.

Okay, so maybe it’s a mindset.  Maybe it’s the placebo effect.  Maybe I’m weirdly addicted to old coffee, could be true, don’t laugh.  But could the husband seriously become influenced by my propensity to drink old Starbuck’s coffee, thinking it is better than a fresh cup in the morning.  I say yes!  An affirmative “yes” with manipulative connotations.     Oh no, I’m not standing down at the coffee pot in the morning making eyebrow signals to my husband; pointing at the old coffee saying, “Take me. I’phone pics (296)m old, but I’m good. Still good after all these hours.”

This morning I went down and he had poured the old coffee into a mug and set it aside.  He knows I will drink the old stuff, but I sincerely don’t think he knows why.  If he would pay attention he’d notice that I only recycle the coffee when we can afford Starbuck’s, about once a month. It was a Starbuck’s day yesterday – the last of it. I woke up this morning knowing I would be drinking, hmmm, not Starbuck’s.  I was surprised to see he had set aside yesterday’s leftovers in a cup and happy he had done so.  Yay!  Starbuck’s for breakfast!  I poured half a cup of the fresh stuff in the cup and added the old stuff to fill ‘er up.  He watched as I did this.  I stuck it in the microwave to warm it a bit since the old stuff was room temperature, to have my idealistic morning complete.   Seriously, who is envious of old coffee? Oh, I thought no one, but I was wrong.

I finished my fresh/old first cup and returned to the pot to find the remainder of the old coffee missing.  Surely my husband did not pour it down the drain since it was he who had saved it for me in the first place.  So I asked, “What happened to the old coffee?”  “I poured it back in the coffee pot.”  “You poured it back in the coffee pot?”  I did not understand this logic.  If I want to pollute one or two cups, dandy, but polluting the whole pot was sinful!  Tomorrow morning’s leftover coffee would now have a small percentage of two day old coffee, and frankly, I have to draw the line somewhere.  Suspicions were raised as to the truthfulness of this action however.  My husband had just made his own cup of coffee and it was sitting on the counter.  Would it be more reasonable to think that he mimicked my habit and was tempted himself to try it out?  A more likely scenario indeed!

The Coffee Chronicles

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto: Taso de kafo. Français : Photo d’une tasse de caffé Español: Taza de café (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our home, we have an ongoing unspoken battle surrounding the coffee ritual. My husband has his idiosyncrasies about how the coffee is made, presented, and I have my preferences.  Whoever gets up first in the morning, of course, has priority how things are done, so over the years, we have silently waged our war by creating new ways to win the battles.

A while back my husband woke at 4:00 a.m. to get ready for work.  He was a bus driver.  Unable to compete with such a time, I had no other choice but to concede the power to him for making the coffee.  It is not that he makes the coffee weak or in
such a way I do not like for we both like our coffee super strong to the point that most people cannot, or will not, drink our brew.  The coffee basket is filled to the rim, just enough so that, when saturated, it does not spill over into the water trough; hence the reason I became suspicious of a secret undermining of the strong
pot.  The coffee was weak, yet when I examined the basket after brewing, it was full to the brim as it should be.  I couldn’t understand why the coffee tasted weak.  Were my taste buds changing?   Had I become so accustomed to the strong coffee that it no longer tasted strong and I needed to take it up another level?  How that would be accomplished without espresso shots I hadn’t a clue.  A larger basket would not fit in the holder.  Less water perhaps?  A different type or brand of coffee?  Okay, okay, there are many solutions, but that was not the problem.

One morning waking earlier than usual, I heard the coffee brewing and was drawn out of bed to meet it at the finish line.  I crept down the stairs, I don’t know why – to catch my husband in the act of something that was eating at me? – and rightly so for he was pouring off his first cup from the primo first drips of the process.  Ha!  His monstrous cup was eating the heart right out of the beast and leaving the remains for the scavengers!  Perturbed I said, “So that’s why the coffee has been weak!  You’re taking the life right out of the pot!”  “That’s the first time honey.”  “Unlikely since the coffee has been weak for a month now!”  I pour my unhappy cup and stomp away with a clear understanding of the coffee conundrum.

Not long after the exposure of this criminal act, one afternoon my husband offered to make a pot of coffee after I suggested a cup
sounded good.  I was not in the habit of drinking coffee in the afternoon – two in the morning did me fine for the day – however now and then, I needed that little extra pick me up.  I agreed to the thoughtful offer and left the kitchen for a moment.  My quick return
found my husband adding fresh grounds to the morning’s old grounds in the basket!  After being found guilty of a felony once, he has once again exposed his criminal leanings.  “What are you doing?”  “Making coffee.”  “Why didn’t you dump the old grounds out?”  “It’s just as strong this way.  I won’t put as much water in there.”  “How long have you been doing coffee this way?”  “I do it all the time.”  “All the time, eh?”  Sure you do!  For your wife!

Stay tuned for The Coffee Chronicles Part II:  Vengeance of the Wife…

 

The true art of Hospitality

It’s been a couple of years now since we turned our downstairs into a guest suite which comprises two bedrooms and a bathroom.  Okay, the bath is part laundry room, but it’s nice you’d hardly know it.  Both bedrooms open to a porch that extends the length of the house and opens up to the back yard.  One of the bedrooms has a futon as well as a coffee table with a recentl20120605_134638y added turn table which includes Nora Jones’ new record, Little Broken Hearts.  We remodeled about a year ago and I sometimes hangout in the larger room because the four windows bring in plenty of light and it is such a comfortable space to read, paint, or lounge in.  However, I recently removed the coffee pot allotted for guests to my master bedroom because it was not being used. Well, doesn’t this sound like somewhere you’d like to visit?

Okay, okay, I understand my small town does not offer much in the way of entertainment.  One would not come here to walk the downtown for that may take less than an hour, browsing in shops included.  Or persons may not choose to come here for the restaurants since there are not many, but face to face mingling and conversation over food and drink with good friends in their home is better than anything you might pay for.  It was once an art form perfected by not only the elite, but the middle and lower classes even took pride in opportunities to show hospitality.  The art of entertainment was personality driven, centering around the creative ingenuities of the host to present a meal, articulate a conversation, provide a place to relax, walk, sing, or dance.  Well, hey, I’m up for the challenge!

I admit it may 20120613_093927be my own fault no one has visited lately.  Mini psychotherapy session time:  Am I trying to hide my personal life from my friends and family?  Am I so overwhelmed with life’s requirements that exerting myself to entertain is just another burden?  Do I prefer being alone, wrapped up in my own world, and not disturbed?  Am I comfortable in my routine and would feel off kilter if someone were to invade my space?  Or, are my friends and family facing similar issues feeling complacent in their own homes? Perhaps we are all a little guilty of complacency however analyzing the benefits of exercising our hospitality rights may outweigh the reasons for staying home.  Getting together forces all involved to practice love, patience, kindness, self- sacrifice, generosity and the list goes on; the opposite of what isolating ourselves with electronics accomplishes.  Therefore, break away from life for a while and learn the true of art of hospitality.  Come see me soon, ya hear.

Our world

I have taken a serious break from blogging.  Perhaps life is too demanding and I have little time to put it into words, much less make it eloquent and interesting to read…at least for you.  Yes, you who take the time to read this, are worthy of more than a recount of a monotonous day spent at my computer.  Since returning from our trip in December, such a long time ago, the direction of my writing has taken a turn, and well, perhaps Mama is not so mad anymore.  Possibly Mama has found a cure for her madness – a grounding agent.  This is not an altogether unfavorable divergence.  While there is still plenty of madness occurring in my innermost sanctuary to divulge and explore, a new avenue is now available for exploitation, one from a different environment, apt for the exploitation of disparate subjects, ostensibly a positive advantage as a writer.  Therefore, my posts may cover more  a variety of subjects and ideas, in addition to my familial antics.  Capisci? 

Going to ramble a bit here.  Earth is destroyed and you are the only survivor.  (Way to go, but there’s a problem, Houston) In search of other lifeforms and inhabitable planets, you take your rocket ship, space shuttle, some futuristic vehicle not yet invented, one far more advanced than the Starship Enterprise – to the other side of the Universe, because you will need one just that special to do such a thing, and there you find the existence of another race of persons/creatures.  Not too hard to imagine so far, our media dominant world has created enough ideas  for us to imagine one elongated necked, super-sized head with gargantuas gray eyes, skinny limbed, naked gender neutral race living in a sterile environment where they have achieved the utmost harmony within their society.  How might ye Earthling blend in – thrive in your new environment? 

You may decide to accept their cultural norms and become one with the new species.  However, no matter how much you accept and attempt to blend in with your new world, even if they accept you openly, you will always remain – the last and only human.  So fellow humans, how important is the human race to you?  How much do you care for your fellow man?  If you were the only one left, would you miss the rest of your species?  We often say we wish we had spent more time with someone we loved while they were alive, telling them that we loved them more often and how much they meant to us.  Well, in a general sense, I am missing the human race already.  Mankind, where are you headed?  Image

 

This is a short chronology of day 2.  Any excitement surrounding the day could not be extracted.  Forgive me for my lack of inventiveness.

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Our motor home would not be ready until noon, giving us time to peruse the city. A cave north of town appeared interesting, so we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel and hit the highway.

The grounds at Inner Space Caverns contained a large fenced in area with goats, burros, deer, and zebra.  20121222_100313

Inner Space Cavern was discovered in 1963 by the highway department.  They were drilling boreholes for a highway overpass on Interstate highway 35.  A highway engineer was lowered into the cavern on a drill bit, the first person ever to see the “Outer Cathedral.”  Since then two endangered species have been discovered in the cave, Texella reyesi (Bone Cave harvestman) and Batrisodes texanus (Coffin Cave mold beetle).  20121222_094355

When finally arriving at the rental place, we freed our items from the van and secured them on the motor home.  Departing from Austin at 2:00 p.m. we were eager to put some miles behind us.  20121222_134134As we drove west, the weather became more grey and cold, reflecting my feelings about our new home.

We passed through Texas wine country and Fredericksburg, ogling the inviting shops.  I made a mental note to stop and spend some time there on the way back.  We stopped driving at 10:00 p.m., pulling over at a rest stop not far out of Ft. Stockton, the first of many cold nights.

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Rattling Along- Day 2