Time and Tides

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Photo Credit: Curt Smith

As autumn is approaching, I offer you the “summer vacation” essay I wrote in 1985. In August of that year, my daughter was 15 and my son was 12.  I thought it might be interesting to others, especially parents whose kids are at any slippery age.  Here it is.

Low Tide

The day was crisp as only a California day could be. The binoculars looped around my neck and the sweatshirt tied at my shoulders reassured me of my youth and vitality.

My husband and children and I were in Point St. Lobos Nature Preserve just south of Carmel, California. We stopped there at my insistence since I’m the “off the beaten path” tour director for my family’s vacations.

We skipped and leaped our way down the slippery sea rocks to the shore. My children were far removed from their worlds of videos, box radios, and computer games as they stopped to examine an orange crab imprisoned in a tide pool.

There were plenty of other tourists around, but the haze of sunshine and shimmers of heated air isolated us from them. The wall of heat locked my family in, together.

We got down on our bellies to examine the tide pool.  My children were oblivious to all but their fascination with the crab. We wondered what other sea animals might have washed over this hole at high tide. Which creatures had escaped and drifted back out to sea on the turbulent waves? This crab was trapped, and its only release would be the next high tide.

I watched my family as the sea water trickled from the tide pool. I watched and I engraved the sight of my children and my husband; the sky, sun, and ocean in my mind. Memories are like waves. They resound around us, and we struggle to hold them just as this tide pool held on to this crab. I didn’t want this precious moment to trickle from my mind.

My family lives the suburban life. We rush from tennis lessons to Little League to computer schools. We strive to improve our bodies, our minds, our lives. My children seem to be growing up so fast. Sometimes I just want to stop the clock and take the time to savor my blessings.

As we examined the tide pool, I thought that just for this brief moment in time and space my family belonged to me. There was no phone, no meetings, no friends to pull them from my grasp. I reveled in the feeling.

It was getting late and the tide was rising. Soon the crab would probably be washed out to sea. It was time to leave. We gathered our cameras and binoculars, and we piled into the car. My children requested the hard rock music station on the car radio. I turned it on. The music resounded in my ears. 

My Search for the Red Phantom

Photo Credit: budandjackie via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: budandjackie via Compfight cc

Sixty years ago I saw my first scarlet tanager. I was ten.

I was sitting outside “in the country,” and I don’t know what made me look up, but there was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.  I called it a “real bird” because it was different than the plain brown birds I was accustomed to seeing. A “real bird” was the kind of bird I only saw in the Golden Guides my parents bought for me.

The scarlet tanager was in a tulip tree. The tulip tree was a “real tree” which I had also recently identified from my tree books. The days of pouring over those books were finally paying off.

I don’t know how long the gorgeous red bird graced me with his presence, but I do know that at the age of ten, it was one of the most joyous experiences of my life.  It was the day my hobby was born. After that day, and for the next sixty years I searched for another scarlet tanager and another tulip tree. The tulip trees were easy. I saw many of them.

But the scarlet tanager quest was unfulfilled.

The sad part of the story is I admit, “I am the worst birder in the entire world.” On Audubon outings when I am on my best game, and I can see color, I can identify birds that are close up. On outings when I am on my regular game, I can confuse pigeons with bald eagles.  I have learned to laugh at myself and have tried to educate myself. Even though I am “the worst birder,” I love being outdoors, being silent, and absorbing the sights and sounds of nature into my soul.

No scarlet tanager. How can that be? The bird books says he (the bright red male with black wings) is up there, but hard to find. Hard to find! I wonder how many other scarlet tanager searchers have been seeking the red phantom for sixty years? I am supposed to listen for him. Well, I mix up all my bird vocalizations, much as I try to work on improving my sightings.

I’m sure if I asked for help, from the many wonderful birding guides I’ve known over the years, I might have seen my tanager decades ago. But I didn’t. Mine was a private desire, lingering in my psyche for so many years—my tanager was becoming my holy grail.

(Of course, between my cataracts, retina surgery, touch of macular degeneration, hearing problems, perhaps I should be given a bird watching handicap…I don’t know what that is, but I know golfers get one) Oh well, I digress.

So the other morning I’m just sitting at my kitchen table and looking out to my deck where I have a bird bath (a plant saucer with two rocks in it for balance) and guess what! There, sitting on the edge of the plant saucer and leaning in to sip the water, is my scarlet tanager—the bird I have not seen in sixty years!

The last time I saw him, I was wearing plaid Bermuda shorts, a sleeveless shirt, and red or blue Keds sneaks. I probably went into the house and ate a tuna fish sandwich on white Wonder Bread, cut in squares by my mother. Maybe I cooed to my brother sleeping in his crib. If it was a Sunday, maybe my father was there reading the travel section of the paper and eating bread and butter, or maybe borscht.

That’s why, the other day, when I saw the scarlet tanager, I cried, hard.

It took me a long time to recover, and I was glad I was alone. I thought “No one will understand.”

But I do hope you will.

And, my scarlet tanager? I don’t know where he is now. But I am hoping he will drop in again.

Lewis and Sparky

A couple of years ago, Jerome and I were out in the gorgeous Canadian Rockies. I was eager to see wildlife, particularly bears.  Finally at the end of our vacation, somewhere near Emerald Lake in British Columbia, we saw a small black bear off in the woods.  A triumph for us!  When we got home and told our neighbors about our bear, they laughed.  While we were three thousand miles away, a bear was right down the block from our house raiding a  neighbor’s bird feeder.  Go figure.

Football Betting is For the Birds!

Photo Credit: furanda via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: furanda via Compfight cc

My daughter and I are in a football survivor pool. For those of you not in the know – survivor pool is the greatest invention for gambler wannabees during football season. A survivor pool doesn’t require much skill.

I don’t need to spend the time and energy that a fantasy football team requires. It’s low commitment, loads of fun, and, simple.  Here’s all I have to do each week:

  • I look at all the multiple football games being played that week.
  • I pick out one game
  • Then I pick the winner of that game.
  • If I win, I advance to the next week where I start all over again. Pick any team and then pick a winner.
  • Here’s the catch though. I can never pick my winning team again.

So, my daughter and her husband tell me, there are a variety of schools of thought on picking winners

  • Go strong at the beginning and go for a guarantee of a great team.
  • Some players, however, opt to leave their strongest teams until the end.

I play differently.  As an Audubon nature lover, my picks are all focused on teams that are named after birds.  As I have told you earlier in this blog, I’m not good with statistics and only passed in college because I was dating the instructor’s buddy.

Here are my current results. So far my bird teams haven’t let me down.

  • Week One, I chose the Seahawks and they won.
  • Week Two, I abandoned Jerome the Great and Good’s NY Giants, and chose the Cardinals. (I love the way cardinals feed their young and my granddaughter lives in Arizona. Makes perfect sense, don’t you think?)Yes. The Cardinals won.
  • Week Three, I picked the Eagles. Once when I picked up a piece of litter from a mucky pond, a bald eagle swooped over my head in salute, and I didn’t even think anyone was watching.

This Week Four,  I’m torn between the Ravens and the Falcons? What to do? What to do?  Got it!  I love crabs, both the succulent soft shell ones and the hammer ‘em open hard shells. Baltimore’s got them both,

As the sun sets and our midnight dreary approaches,  I’m wondering if Jerome the Great and Good is going to roll his eyes again at my weird team picks. The answer to that philosophical question is” Nevermore, nevermore”… because I keep winning.

Ravens it will be!

 

 

Adirondack Chairs in God’s Country

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I see kids today doing their homework while reclining on their beds.

People of my age did not do that. We used desks.  If you are a contemporary of mine, I bet you remember taking great pride in your desk and feeling like a real hot shot when you organized your drawers with your new school supplies and, then, topped it off with your new green blotter.  I even had a special desk lamp!  Yowza!  Sitting at that desk, I felt like I was in the Oval Office.

That feeling lasted for the first week and a half of school. Then, I started hating homework, messing up the drawers, and listening to songs on the radio like Runaway by Del Shannon.

But, anytime my parents came in the room, there I was, at my desk, looking studious.

I think desks were a part of my parents’ American Dream.  Desks were ergonomically designed for work, and hard work meant success.

Speaking of success, as those of you who follow my blog know, I married Jerome, the Great and Good. We bought a home in what our parents called, God’s Country, because it was forty-four minutes from the Bronx. Also, our home was a real house, not an apartment with a screen door on the third floor or the elevated train running outside the living room.

Jerome and I bought two Adirondack chairs for our backyard. OK, so the chairs are plastic, and they are not exquisitely carved by Native American craftsman.  When you pull into our suburban driveway and see those two forest green plastic chairs under the trees on our dried up brown grass, you can almost hear the call of the loon and the howling of the wolf.

Unless you’re an astronaut manning a control panel during takeoff, Adirondack chairs are not designed for work. True, you can set your glass of iced tea down on the wide arms of an Adirondack chair, but if you drink your iced tea in your reclining position, you may choke to death on an ice cube.

The green plastic Adirondack chairs in our backyard are not suitable for reading a book, or writing a personal manifesto, or even a shopping list.

Adirondack chairs are only good for looking up.

Looking up is great, perhaps even greater than doing homework.  There is never a test on “looking up,” and you don’t have to study for it. Often I sit in my Adirondack chair, look up and think about the same stuff I thought about as a child. I count the leaves on a branch of a tree.  Then I try to figure out how many leaves there are on the tree. Then I think about all the other trees on my block, my town, my state, my country and the world.  Then I feel alive, even more alive than I felt when I listened to Runaway by Del Shannon.

 

 

An Earth Day Story Written by a Bug

IMG_20140421_110311_025A quick note from The Nothing Expert before we get to the Earth Day Story Written by a Bug

My late younger brother was a practical joker, and he reserved his best jokes for me.  For example, there was the time we all went camping.

My brother knew I loved nature, and he knew I loved taking kids on nature walks. So, with everyone else in on the joke, he placed a big black rubber snake under a rock on the trail.

“Rose, he said, “why don’t you take the kids on a nature walk.”

“Great idea,” I said,  “Come on kids. Remember, use all of your senses.”

“Why don’t you lift up the rock,” my brother suggested.

Ha! Ha!  Everyone is still talking about that day!

Tuesday, April 22 is Earth Day. I am dedicating this Earth Day post to my brother, Joel.

At the wonderful Hudson Valley Writers’ Center( http://writerscenter.org/), we were asked to write something from someone else’s point of view. Here’s what I wrote about the creatures whose lives were changed by my rock turning.

An Earth Day Story Written by a Bug

Strong of back and stomach, the Rock Turner is a home wrecker. It could be a perfect Tuesday morning; everybody’s eating and working and moving around prey. Then, the evil Rock Turner, in one heave, slices away the bonds between soil and stone that we hold sacred. Some of us cling desperately to the undersurface as we are ripped from our homes and thrown aside. Others remain behind, exposed and naked. It’s every man for himself when the Rock Turner rolls in. Even our grubs are up for grabs. After the initial shock, the tearing apart of our homes and the feel of the hot sun on our backs, we run for our lives, at least those of us who are not yet pupae. There’s nowhere to hide. Our gullies and ditches and secrets are open. Our way of life is up for scrutiny, and we may not measure up to expectations.

The Rock Turner’s compulsion has decimated us. Does he know how many years it takes to get started, to settle in and build a home? Does he care? Last Saturday, the buzz was out that he must have had a reconsideration. A reconsideration, that saved the gang under the large quartz and granite flat top on mossy hill.

“Don’t look at the bright light,” adults called to their nymphs. “You will be blinded. Look away. It is the apocalypse.” Some of them, more religious than others, followed the bright light. For them, the uncovering was divine. The reconsideration ended all that. The Rock Turner replaced the large quartz and granite flat top on mossy hill and life went on, although it was never quite the same again.

The End.