Sunday, July 28, 2013

I've decided to name her Manasa.

When I moved into this house in 2007, I found a shed snake skin wrapped in a bush alongside the house. I didn't think much of it until the next year, when I found a longer one in the same spot. I realized there must be a sizable snake living in the crawl space under the house. I was pleased to find a shed skin again the following year. A snake generally handles the rodent population and I'm appreciative. One summer I even found three babies in the garage and re-located them elsewhere. Because, you know, a snake in the crawlspace is just fine, but I don't really want snakes cruising around where I'm working. But for the last couple of years... nothing. I thought maybe she died.
This morning, I looked outside and saw a skin and ran to tell my kids our snake was alive and well. They were entirely unimpressed. I tried to straighten out the skin to measure it, but could tell I was going to tear it, so I used a cloth tape measure. A little over five feet. Eastern ratsnakes can get up to 6 feet long, but this one is close to fully growm.
The shed was wound through the sedum, I guess to help pull the skin off. I've decided to leave it there, figuring it will either decompose or the birds will carry bits of it off to line their nests. And since I don't know if this is my original snake or one of her offspring, I'm naming her/them "Manasa," a Bengali snake goddess who is a fertility deity. She can help my garden grow.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I curse my children for watching South Park.

The meal I cooked for my date last week contained some South Carolina wild-caught shrimp from my vacation. The only time I left Harbor Island, in fact, was to go just over the bridge to buy some local shrimp. I peeled and de-veined a couple of pounds of them, and and stuck them in the freezer to bring home.
Of all the places to buy shrimp, this was the one I could not resist. And then I spent the next couple of hours singing "Gay Fish" to myself. Because you don't have to actually like a song to have it become an earworm and stay with you forever.
"I've been so lonely girl, I've been so sad and down 
Couldn't understand why haters joked around 
I wanted to be free with other creatures like me 
And now I got my wish, cause I know that I'm a gay fish." (Kanye West)

Friday, July 19, 2013

See ya later, alligator!

A block from where I was staying a couple of weeks ago, I saw one of these signs. Well, okay.
I ran around to the side of the canal and looked over the short fence. They weren't kidding.
This particular canal was frequented (that I saw, anyway) by three smallish alligators about a a couple of feet long, a larger one that was about six feet long, and by a whopper that was a good eight feet.
 
The turtles were partly camouflaged by the muck in the water, but kept their heads up when a gator came around.
I was surprised that some of the birds were willing to sit so close to the water.  Sure, there had to be plenty of bugs, but didn't this also put them in easy range of the alligators? I noticed, however, that they'd move to higher branches when there was trouble swimming by.
Trouble like this guy. See the rounded back of that big turtle on the right? You would not catch me that close.
Not a problem - I had no interest in feeding or harassing. The strange thing was that the fences were only short lengths, with easy access out of the canal on either side. In fact, one person told me that earlier in the week a gator had been spotted in the road. I kept my eyes open each time I approached, checking the brush in the area before getting to close. But I was drawn back over and over, a few times a day. Of course, I'm the sort of person who had a pet python.
video
My second day there, I caught this alligator on video.  The first minute is slow, then it gets a little crazy as I am startled by the gator's sudden lunge at his prey.  I emailed it to a friend of mine and he said, "Was that you cursing at the end?"  Well, if you counting laughing and saying, "Holy shit!" as cursing, then yes.
Big, primitive killing machines.  I find them fascinating.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Vacations are always too brief.

It's remarkable how quickly you fall into a pattern, and how difficult it is to break out of it.  In just a few days, I got used to simple meals on my little deck, long walks by the water and around the island, returning to the condo and showering in a vain attempt to clear away that resistant film of sand and sunscreen and sweat that you seem to acquire at a beach.
But real life always awaits. After a final lazy morning on the beach last Monday, I headed back to load up my car and drive inland towards my mountains. In May when I went I went up to New England, my birthplace, it felt comfortable. But it did not feel like "home." In the coastal Southeast, however, I settle back in with an ease that always surprises me. The weighty humid air, the salty breeze, the sandy soil beneath my feet - all take me back to childhood camping trips at the beach. As I walked back over the wooden boardwalk to go home, three older women passed me as they headed for the shore. Straw hats and sunglasses shielded their faces, gauzy cover-ups masked their heavy thighs, and the scent of cigarettes and coconut oil clung to them. They all smiled at me and the last one greeted me with a gravelly-voiced, "Mornin'." The folks here are nothing like me and yet they are my people. I found myself turning to watch them as they made their way down to the sand, lugging chairs and drinks and novels, and I couldn't help but smile at their retreating backs. I like to think that they will settle in as I did, gaze out at the shorebirds wheeling over the waves, and breathe deeply.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The weather gods were on my side.

I'm told it rained at home the whole time I was gone. But on the island, it was gorgeous every day. Sunny, breezy and warm without being too hot. Even in the middle of the day, I could comfortably walk around.
I like that point where you can just spot the ocean beyond the sea oats.
At the edge of the dune, protective markers have been placed around sea turtle nests, to keep people from disturbing the eggs.
There were many times when the empty beach seemed to stretch out endlessly.
In the mornings I took my coffee and a book and would listen to the waves and read until I inevitably slipped into a coma. The beach always has that effect on me. Once I was startled awake by the only unleashed dog I saw on that island, a silky border collie. I sat up and she leaned into me and pressed her face against mine. The young guy walking her apologized and said, "She saw a friend and just had to say hello." It was impossibly sweet and made me wish I had a dog there with me.
Occasionally a rainshower would spring up out over the ocean, beautiful from a distance and never making it to shore.
I walked for miles and miles along the water. Past the sandbars where the shorebirds congregated,
past the marshy areas near the bird nesting grounds,
and to the very end of the island where you could see Hunting Island, a state park I used to camp on with my family when I was a kid. That lighthouse in the distance was rebuilt in 1875 after the original was destroyed during the Civil War.
video
Sometimes as I walked, I was completely alone. For as far as I could see in either direction, only me. Hundreds of birds and crabs, but no other human. It felt a little like being dropped on a deserted island.
I would walk until my legs ached and then return to sit in the sand some more.
The shrimp boats came out early, too, and would pass as I watched the sunrise.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times on a beach. I was only there Friday through Monday, but I loved every minute of it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Over the river and to the shore.

From Beaufort, I crossed the Harbor River to my destination, Harbor Island. My condo came equipped with its own golf cart. I've never golfed, never liked watching golf, but I was weirdly stoked about getting to drive a golf cart around.
Okay, the thrill wore off after the first couple of outings, but still it was a bit of slow-paced goofy fun. I actually found myself laughing out loud as I drove. It really doesn't take much to amuse me.
Because I stay off the beach between 10 or so in the morning and 4 or so in the afternoon (peak sunburn hours), I decided to first drive around a little and get a feel for how the island was set up. On the side facing the mainland were wide expanses of marsh.
I liked the curvy, shaded roads through the neighborhoods, some of which had golf-cart-only parking areas.
On my way in, I'd stopped to pick up some boiled peanuts, a treat I always get when I'm in the Low Country. I was chatting with the man at the store where I bought these and told him that my ex-husband, who was from Detroit, thought Southerners were crazy for eating them. The man and I both laughed at my ex's foolishness. This salty treat was brought over from Africa (where they are called groundnuts), and they are delicious and best with cold beer. But only the fresh ones. Canned boiled peanuts are an abomination.
When it had cooled down a bit and the sun wasn't so high, I headed out the door and over the boardwalk through the dunes.
It's the kind of place where you can leave your flip flops by the end of the boardwalk and know they will be right there when you get back.
Because on the beach, who needs shoes? Just me, the sand and the water that seems to go on forever. This is my idea of heaven.
Each night I was there, I stayed put until it was dark. Each night when I walked back to my temporary home, I felt a little lighter.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Another brief vacation in retrospect.

It has been raining almost incessantly in my state and I wanted to escape it. But with daily storms forecasted along the coast, I feared a washout for my trip. And indeed, when I set out a little after 5 am on Friday, it was raining hard. It continued to rain the entire six hours or so of my drive. As if by magic, however, when I arrived in Beaufort, South Carolina, the skies cleared.
I had a few hours to kill before I could check in, so I decided to spend the afternoon wandering around the town. Cannons. There are always cannons. These were in a little Riverfront park I found.
I sat for a bit in one of their wooden swings, watching the sailboats in the harbor. It was sunny and pleasant, with a nice breeze blowing.
After checking several menus, I picked a restaurant advertising local shrimp and microbrews on draft. I had to wait about ten minutes for a table out on their deck, but I was pretty pleased with my seat by the railing. Shrimp, field greens, and a cold IPA, and I was a happy woman.
I still had time, so I wandered the streets.  It's actually remarkable how much my shopping-ban has altered visiting new cities. Since I don't plan to buy anything, I don't go into the shops. I look instead at the plants and architecture of a city.
The crape myrtle looks different with their draping of Spanish moss.  I've always been told that the epiphyte is rife with chiggers, but I just read that it is rarely a problem with Spanish moss in trees. Still, I keep my distance. If you've ever known the maddening itch of chiggers burrowing into your flesh  you would, too.
I like the tropical feel of the palms trees all along the Southeast Atlantic coast. You can practically hear the ocean in the rustle of their branches.
But the afternoon was edging along and I still had an island to get to. I found my parked car, and headed on over.

Friday, July 5, 2013

There's an ocean calling my name.

I'm suffering from some serious compassion fatigue.  In the last few weeks, the theme in my office seems to be "Life sucks, everyone around me sucks because they don't do enough for me, and there is no hope anything could ever get any better for me."

I actually had someone tell me straight out that she was unhappy, wanted to be happier, but was unwilling to do a single thing to change. Not. One. Thing. Yeah, let me just get my magic wand.

Another who finishes every thought with either, "It's just one thing after another" or "I can't win." I've got news for him - life is one thing after another. It's true for everyone. But that's no reason to refuse to see the good that's also there.

And another who has been announcing for literally nearly a decade that she is on the verge of death and that the last week has been the worst week anyone has ever had and that she is in the worst pain anyone could ever experience. Well holy hell, you can't be dying for years (unless you count the fact that you are technically moving toward death from the instant you are born). And pain and trauma can only escalate so much - every single week simply cannot be the worst week ever. And guess what? Everyone in her life keeps a wide berth because they're freaking worn out with it.

It's my job to listen and to hold all that sorrow and rage and disappointment and to guide people toward something a little more productive than just feeling bad. But when I watch people building a self-fulfilling prophecy, refusing to take any responsibility, and essentially vowing to stay unhappy, it wears on me. And for whatever reason, I wasn't getting through. Sometimes I can. Actually, often I can - I'm a pretty decent shrink. But when the wave is that high, it tells me one thing. I need a break. I need to re-group, breathe, and clear my head. Even if only for a few days.

My house is clean, my laundry is done, my paperwork is caught up, my car is packed, my reservations are made, and I'm headed out to the South Carolina coast for a long weekend. Just me and the ocean air. Because I know one thing - I'm in charge of my own happiness.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Avian adventures.

Just recently I noticed the robins in my dogwood had babies in the nest.
Well, just a couple days later and my baby robins have become fledglings. I took this picture while one of the parents chirped at me nervously from nearby.
One the things I liked best about walking at the dam is the variety of birds, from the blackbirds that perch on the sand bags, the Great Blue Herons that wade in the shallows, and the songbirds who serenade me. One day last week, I encountered a flock of sparrows on the dam. They flew up over the side of the dam and circled me as I walked, then flew back off over the other side.  My walking haiku(ish):

The swallows appear 
To swoop and dive around me 
As I walk. Magic.
video
Another day I heard what sounded like knocking wooden pegs with a mallet. I thought someone might be setting up a tent, but the noise went on and on.
This is a lousy phone photo, but the noise was this guy, a big pileated woodpecker. He appeared to be doing his level best to sever this limb from the tree.
I wish my phone took better distance photos, but you'll just have to take my word for this one. While walking one morning a week ago, a bald eagle flew in front of me, pursued by two mockingbirds, and then around the lake out of sight. I didn't realized he'd wheeled around in an effort to escape his tormentors. Suddenly he swooped in so low over my head that I noticed the shadow and the air from his wings before I registered what it was, and I ducked. I watched while he flew into the woods, then I ran down the road to follow him until I was standing in front of the tree where he'd landed. He spread his wings out for a moment while staring me down. I said out loud, "I get it, you're a big, scary raptor." Apparently realizing that hadn't worked, he made a big show of turning on the branch so that his back was to me. After a bit, he twisted his head around to look at me over his shoulder. I said, "Yeah, I'm still here." I swear he heaved a big sigh before he flew off over the field. Poor thing was probably thinking he couldn't get a moment's peace. I've had days like that.

There is just so much to be amazed at in this world.