Living in the Moment: We Are Never Alone #MondayBlogs #alligators

Hello, dear friends. I’m still adjusting, indulging in what might be a few weeks or a few years of wishful thinking (not to be confused with magical thinking). Reality always wins out though and, for me, there’s only one way to deal with that. Well, actually a couple of ways. One way would be to pop in my earbuds, fire up my Audible app and listen to the latest fiction download while I knit. Unfortunately, the novel I am currently listening to is Because We Are by Ted Oswald. It’s a fictional crime story that takes place in … Haiti, inclusive of the 2010 earthquake. I say “unfortunately” because the story is often so sad. What utter poverty the characters live in! What mean lives the children lead, often fending for themselves as if they were adults, at risk for being killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time! And yet, there’s a crime, a murder that takes place and that the main character, Libète, a feisty little girl, is determined to solve. I still can’t get over how the author has ingeniously hooked and drawn me in, giving me no escape from the daily devastation of Haiti’s poverty by holding out that carrot of a crime to be solved, justice to be done. So I am hooked on this fantastic novel, but it often makes me sad and so … not such a good way to cope with Reality.

My other recourse? Well, thank goodness the temperatures have dropped to more fall-like, mosquito-slowing degrees. Recently, my husband and I took an outing to our favorite natural environment, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, to enjoy a sunset and a little star shine. Granted, this too is Reality but one that can get lost in the highly charged, people-laden, TMI universe unless you make the point to go there.

While my husband focused on filming light to dark for another in his series of time-lapse videos, I took my trusty iPhone and surveyed the area.

Venus's Belt

The Belt of Venus

This is one of the many scenes we were looking forward to: The Belt of Venus, or Twilight Wedgie as I like to call it. In the middle of the photo you can make out a white blob, or possibly a White Heron or Egret. Here is video of the large bird fishing for his (or her) evening meal. The video lasts about a minute.

It was a lovely evening. The few mosquitoes that bothered to appear were slowed by the cool temperatures and weren’t much of a threat. I didn’t even have to swat at them. I just blew at them when they got too close. There were gnats or no-see-ums but my head and neck were covered (it was dropping down to the low fifties) so they weren’t much of a bother for me. I was able to lose myself in recording the sights around me, dropping down on my belly to follow a line of coots off in the distant. Then up on the wooden planking that outlined the round bit of solid ground in the marsh, trying to get another perspective. And then my husband called to me, to look to my left.

We are never alone when we’re at St. Marks … and I’m not talking about the birds …

Strange as it may sound, this relatively young alligator made my night! He (or she) was as curious about me as I was about him (or her). He (for simplicity’s sake) lingered long enough that my husband worried that he might be a trash gator. I will never understand why anyone would feed a gator. Seriously, they don’t look like they need help getting food. But when I fake-tossed to him, he sidled off, moving a few feet further away so he could continue to look at me without threatening his own sense of safety. That was a relief. I like alligators as long as we’re not up close and personal with each other.

So, I’m curious. What do you all do when you’ve had enough of Reality and need a break? Oh, and before you ask, although I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2016, I haven’t worked on my novel since before the election. But enough about me. Let’s talk about you.

Living in the Moment: Mashes Sands and … more fiddler crabs #nature #fiddler crabs

This is “Part 2” of our day in the fun and sun and sand and water, and frolicking with fiddler crabs.  Part 1 was spent at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, which was supposed to be a quick trip to check out some time lapse filming opportunities for my husband.  A ranger at the Refuge recommended that we go to Mashes Sands Beach if we also wanted to see horseshoe crabs.  The beach is a fairly recent acquisition to the park service.  We had been there years ago when we took a coastal ecosystems class with Anne Rudloe (RIP) so we were game to visit the area again.

Look! A sign!

Look! A sign!

And look!  Fiddler crabs!  I’ve been playing around with the time lapse function on my iPhone.  I had to film for a number of minutes just to get this 8-second video.  I have much to learn …

Time Lapse–Fiddler Crabs at Mashes Sands from Marie Bailey on Vimeo.

 

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Look, a boardwalk!

I love boardwalks, especially in nature areas.  They are a wonderful way to avoid upsetting the natural environment while still allowing the visitor to feel part of that environment.

And boardwalks are also good for fishing …

A view of the boardwalk which gives me a sense of liminality.

A view of the boardwalk which gives me a sense of liminality.

What is liminality, you ask?  Well, my friend Luanne Castle at Writer Site can explain it better (and more poetically too):  “The place of change where you are different at one end than you were at the other.”  Perhaps that’s another reason I like boardwalks.  You enter at one end and exit at the other, or, in the case of this particular boardwalk, you just turn around and leave the way you came.  And thanks to the view, the opportunity to gaze into the depths of the bay without getting in it, I did feel a little different exiting the boardwalk than when I entered it.

Lots of shallow water.

Lots of shallow water.  Perhaps some liminality here too with the contrast between the burnished shallow water and the deep blue of the deeps.

 

Squint and you might see a white egret.

Squint and you might see a white egret.

After the boardwalk, we decided to explore the beach, travel its edges on a long way back to our car.  We removed our sneakers and socks and rolled up our pants so we could wade through the warm bay waters and find creatures like this little guy.

A baby horseshoe crab ...

A baby horseshoe crab …

And with my husband's foot for perspective :-)

And with my husband’s foot for perspective …

 

An inland storm.

Looking back, we can see a storm is brewing inland.

I’ve lived in this part of Florida for over 25 years now and I’ve often seen pine trees near salt water.  This dead tree in the next photo is different.  It’s not near salt water.  It’s in it.  Over the years the bay waters have steadily encroached on the land where the tree once thrived (aka “nuisance flooding“).

Dead tree ahead ... Wait, a tree at a beach?

Dead tree ahead … Wait, a tree at a beach?

 

I dedicate this dead tree to Florida's Governor Rick Scott who has unofficially banned the phrase "climate change" from state agency documents. You know, pine trees and salt water don't really go together.

I dedicate this dead tree to Florida’s Governor Rick Scott who has unofficially banned the phrases “climate change”, “global warming,” and “sustainability” from state agency documents.

 

Was once a great tree, no doubt.

This here was once a great tree, no doubt.

Raccoon crabs!

Now it provides shelter for crabs!  Nothing goes to waste in Nature.

Another day well spent!

Another day well spent!

Call it what you want, sea level rising is a real deal in Florida, but I’m trying to look on the bright side.  If we stay here, maybe we’ll eventually have that beachfront property we always wanted … without having to move.

Living in the Moment: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge #Nature #FiddlerCrabs #MondayBlogs

One of our favorite places to visit in Florida is the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge has over 17,000 protected acres and lies between three counties.  It is a way station for all sorts of migratory birds and butterflies, and is home to a lot of critters including black bears, bobcats, otters, and … yes, of course, alligators.  Since we moved to Florida in 1990, my husband and I have visited the Refuge numerous times, usually walking one of their well-maintained trails which takes you along dikes and bayous.

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to go out to the St. Marks Lighthouse.  The lighthouse was built in 1842 and is still being used, although currently it’s under renovation.

Lighthouse at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Lighthouse at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

Our purpose in this trip was to scope out some good spots for photography.

I’m not making any claims about my photographic abilities, especially since I was just using my iPhone, but the video above and the photos below should give you a nice idea of what SMNWR has to offer.

(1) Overlooking one of the many bayous at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

(1) Overlooking one of the many bayous at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

(2) Overlooking one of the many bayous at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

(2) Overlooking one of the many bayous at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

A little color in the otherwise green and sandy gray landscape.

A little color in the otherwise green and sandy gray landscape.

On our way to the beach at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

On our way to the beach at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

The "beach" at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

The “beach” at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

So what is my husband looking for?  Ah, some of these little critters …

Fiddler Crabs at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge from Marie Bailey on Vimeo.

Meditation on Life and Mom #MondayBlogs #MothersDay

My mother is one of 12 children.  She is 92 now.  In all likelihood, she’ll see her 93rd birthday in late October.  She was a middle child, but now she’s the oldest, having survived six of her siblings.  The youngest girl, my Aunt Edith, is in hospital now.  Dying.  From cancer that appears to have metastasized to her bones.  She is 83.  The circumstances of my aunt’s decline are sketchy.  We had seen her last October, as feisty and full-bodied as ever, but, frankly, looking a little older than my mom.  My aunt has had knee surgeries and other ailments; my mom, nothing but a cold here and there and a bit of skin cancer that was quickly dealt with.

My mother considers herself blessed.  She has no explanation for why she is so healthy relative to all her siblings, why she almost seems to grow younger as they continue to age.

Talking with my mom over the phone can be a surreal experience.  On one recent call, I just listened as she discussed her sister’s deteriorated condition, interspersing bits of details and questions (collapsed lung, lesions on her bones, dehydration, eating more now, where will she go next, why didn’t the doctor know) with observations on the variety of birds she feeds, the gray squirrels that entertain her (don’t forget, there’s also a red one), the lilies she planted last week showing shoots already, the two chipmunks that accidentally drowned in a bucket she keeps outside to catch rain (and that was too bad because she thinks chipmunks are cute).  I could have listened to her forever.

There was dying (my aunt), living (the birds and squirrels), death (the chipmunks) and birth (the lilies)–all in ten minutes or so.  I wasn’t marking time.  Perhaps without intending to, she gave me perspective.  Things don’t make your life.  Life makes your life.

My mom lives in a double-wide which she loves, although it’s beset by boxelder bugs and mice.  She lives quite frugally and she’s says it’s by choice, but really, it’s how she has always lived.  She wouldn’t know how to splurge if given the opportunity.  I sometimes call her Moneybags because every so often she hands out large checks to her children and grandchildren.  She’s “spending down,” trying to make sure there’s nothing to quibble over when she’s gone.  I roll my eyes.  The money is appreciated but it’s listening to her talk about her birds and squirrels and the occasional woodchuck that I’ll miss.

I’m feeling pretty philosophical right now and wish it could be my constant state, but it takes effort.    For now I’ll just hold close her short monologue, replay it in my head whenever I feel bitter or tired or sorry for myself.

It might work because this morning we saw a fledgling pileated woodpecker  in our backyard, the first one I’ve seen in many years.  I couldn’t wait to call my mom and tell her.

Living in the Moment: A Mini-Grand Canyon #MondayBlogs #nature

Good morning, Dear Reader.  Well, it’s  morning here and it’s probably morning somewhere else, so “Good morning” even if it’s afternoon or evening or the witching hour where you are now reading this.  I hate to split hairs, especially my own.

Several weeks ago my husband and I made a pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama, my husband’s “tierra” as he occasionally called it.  The city where his mom went to high school.  Where his grandmother might have known Zelda Fitzgerald, known well enough to nod “Good morning” if they happened to pass on the street.  But they came from different social classes and, besides, his grandmother did not “approve” of Zelda so they would not have been friends.  I digress.

On the way home from our mini-excursion, we stopped by a mini-Grand Canyon near Lumpkin, Georgia, about two hours drive from our home.  We’ve lived here in this region of the South for 25 years and yet we had never visited this child-size gorge.  We’d heard about it, had friends who drove up here to take day hikes through the gorge, but we remained fairly oblivious of this little nugget of nature so close to us.

It’s called Providence Canyon and without further adieu, here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.

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Yes, that’s the back of my husband. That’s probably about as much of him as you all will ever see. He’s not shy. He’s just anti-social media.

 

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The Visitor’s Center was closed so we just followed signs down to the floor of the canyon. I wasn’t really dressed for a hike. At least my shoes weren’t hiking boots and we had only one bottle of water between us. And it was hot!

 

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We were perplexed by all the trees and foliage that obscured the bluffs. Frankly, we started to wonder why our friends had made such a fuss over Providence Canyon.

 

It wasn't until we were leaving the park and saw some picnic tables down a wide expanse of lawn.  At the far side of the lawn, we were greeted with these views.

It wasn’t until we were leaving the park and saw some picnic tables down a wide expanse of lawn. At the far side of the lawn, we were greeted with these views.

 

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Granted, Providence is not as impressive as the Grand Canyon, but my husband saw stargazing opportunities here.

Naturally the best spot for stargazing would have been further out on the bluff, past the fence and danger sign. No way will I let him do that.

 

Living in the Moment: Alligators and Deer, Oh My!

So I am slowly getting back into my old routine.  Well, that’s a lie.  For one thing, I never really had a routine.  For another thing, I hate routine, although I’m often the first person to complain when unexpected things happen.  Usually this time of year, one would expect blog posts on the successes and failures of the past year along with hopes and resolutions for the new year.  Well, not me.  Nope, nope, nope.  Right now I’m just living in the moment.

After surviving yet another NaNoWriMo and concurrently providing daily posts on the novel-in-progress, surviving what might have been the flu for me and then caring for my husband who definitely had the flu, and managing to keep a low profile during the holidays, I just want to enjoy the moment.  Not really think about the future, which looms bright or dark depending on my mood, and not wanting to dwell on the past that I can’t change.  I had some nice moments yesterday when my husband and I decided to go for a 7-mile walk at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, a bit warmer than we expected, but perfect for sighting my favorite reptile:  Alligators.

First we saw this little guy.

IMG_0011_5Yes, I mean “relatively” little:  a young one, about 2-3 feet long.  We took several photos, trying to not get too close and scare him off.  This best shot was made possible by my husband’s walking stick which doubles as a monopod (look it up).  He secured my camera to the monopod and, with a 10-second timer, we took turns holding the stick out and over the very obliging reptile.  Of course, his stillness probably had more to do with the bath water temperature of the pool he was in.  That is, rather than enjoying the photo op experience, he just had the most perfect spot and wasn’t about to move for a couple of gawking bipeds.

We continued on our walk, excited about our pictures while also slightly worried that the young alligator was leaving himself vulnerable to less well-meaning folk.  Then we came upon this guy.

IMG_0014_4Another young one, although a foot or more longer than the first one.  His teeth were barely noticeable, not yet marring his otherwise pleasant smile.  Still, as you can see, we kept well on our side of the road and didn’t try anything fancy with my camera.  Just a couple of quick shots and lots of smiles and walking backwards until we were a safer distance away.  But only a few feet up the road was yet another sunning gator.

IMG_0016_4This guy was bigger (almost 6 feet) and had more impressive teeth.  Of course, I couldn’t resist another photo, but by now, we were getting worried.  Each alligator we had so far encountered was bigger than the previous.  What was waiting for us at the turn in the road?

IMG_0018_4Now, St. Marks is my most favorite place in north Florida, maybe even all of Florida.  The only time I’m not enamored about the Refuge is in summer when it’s very buggy with chiggers and mosquitoes.  So I just don’t go there then.  Across from the shot above, we have the bayou with the mid-afternoon sun giving everything a silvery, shiny effect.

IMG_0019_4Including the alligators.

IMG_0024_4This is where I learned that my cheap little camera actually has a telephoto function (thanks to my husband who used it once and figured it out while I’ve had the blasted thing for a year and a half and had no clue).  Due to the camera, this alligator that is roughly 20 yards away, looks so much closer.  This guy I called “Big Daddy” and if we had met him on the road, trust me, we would not have stopped to take pictures.  We would have been running the other way and fast.  We figure this guy to be about 8-10 feet.

By now I’m like a kid in a candy shop.  I love my alligators, as long as they are in the water and I am on dry land.  And most of them were.

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You know you want another close-up (via a telephoto lens, of course).

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And it weren’t all alligators either.  Up from the banks came this attractive specimen of a young stag.  Because we were all surprised, I didn’t have time to point, focus, and shoot.  I simply had to shoot, and this young buck was definitely anxious.

IMG_0025_4At one point, I thought he was going to charge my husband.

IMG_0026_4But he just wanted to get by.  Running away from us didn’t seem like an option for him, so we moved closer to the banks to get him more space.  Then we saw what might have startled him to begin with … and it wasn’t us.

IMG_0037_4Okay, this guy was on MY side of the bayou, but still I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a couple of pictures.  Of course, I’m no fool.  Gators aren’t the least interested in eating people.  Unless you’re swimming around in their pond at dusk or night.  Then you’re the fool.  This gator did what they all do when humans get too close:  make a big splash and swim away.

IMG_0038_4Same guy, but because we were getting into his personal space, he made a big splash and started out across the bayou, away from us.  It was beautiful sight, the shimmery glide of the gator as he made his way across the water, to a low mound where he pulled himself up so he could go back to his sunbathing in peace.  My camera has a movie function, and damn if I did not remember to use it.

I hope you enjoyed my living-in-the-moment moments.  If I were to make a resolution for next year, and I won’t but if I were to, I’d resolve to have more such moments to share with all of you.

Happy New Year!

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