Category Archives: nature

Farewell to a friend

The dragonflies were coming out at the beach last week, a new cycle of life beginning with the season. For my wife and me, a stage of life was ending, as we cleared out and sold the beach house we’d owned and cherished for the last sixteen years.

Beach house

Growing up in the Midwest and not being the imaginative type (think Lake Wobegon), I never dreamed I might someday have a home by the water. I spent lots of summer days swimming in lakes, but never went to Florida for spring break. I had no clue that the world’s most gorgeous beaches lay on the Gulf of Mexico in the area once called the Redneck Riviera, now the Emerald Coast.

Then my girlfriend and I visited friends there and were entranced by the white sand, the balmy turquoise-blue water, and the cool, laid-back vibe. We bought a condo, got married on the beach, and a few years later traded up to a house, where we spent the best times of our lives. Swimming in the Gulf as little fish nibbled our toes. Riding our bikes to get ice cream at ten a.m. if we felt like it. Floating in our pool with Pat Metheny on the outdoor speakers. Kayaking in the rare dune lakes all around us. Eating sweet Gulf shrimp on the beach at sunset. Joining our neighbors for a Fourth of July pig roast, complete with a New Orleans funeral procession for the pig, then watching fireworks all along the coast. Catching beads at Mardi Gras in Panama City.

The Mardi Gras parade in St. Andrews, a few years before the hurricane

Of all those moments, the very best were the clear nights when we lay in our deck chairs for hours on end, marveling at the Milky Way and the planets, talking, and just being together. My wife’s creative spirit and loving heart touched every corner, from the wreath on the door, to the screened porch she had put in, to the nature photos she took and hung on the walls. We could go down anytime and find everything as we’d left it, waiting for us like an old friend.

But eventually, managing the place became a struggle. Meanwhile, our historic beach town was ruined by a plague of mini-Trump Towers, hideous new houses that blocked our Gulf view and were full of obnoxious tourists. These are the kind who bring their guns on vacation, then forget and leave them for the next group of renters (or their kids) to find. They overran our formerly uncrowded beaches, tore around the streets on golf carts, and shot off tons of fireworks even when it was nowhere near the Fourth.

We fought back. When some jerks got raucous in the house behind ours, we fired up the stereo and introduced them to John Coltrane at top volume. But it just wasn’t paradise anymore. And when Hurricane Michael slammed Panama City and came within twenty miles of us, it was time to sell and move on.

I know it’s the right decision. I still feel like I’ve torn out part of my heart. Little things remind me of the place all  the time: no more beach house keys on my ring, several beach-related bookmarks to delete from my browser, the storm forecasts I don’t need to follow anymore.

But we gave our home a proper farewell. We donated lots of household goods to people who’d lost everything in Michael (and didn’t need the National Hurricane Center to tell them it was a Category 5). On the last evening, we walked down to the beach with boxes of shells we’d collected over the years and cast them back into the sea.

Our last sunset

Like Hemingway’s Paris, the beach is a moveable feast, a state of mind. We can see the same stars and planets from our porch in Atlanta. It’s spring and this Sunday is Easter. The dragonflies will be back soon.

Dave closing door.
Goodbye
Advertisements

Frogblog update: They come knocking!

It was the kind of Southern summer night that makes you long for winter in Minnesota. The heat was enough to wilt Trump’s rug, and the air was so thick you could cut it with a sharp tongue.

Tree frog.Suddenly on our sliding patio door, there appeared a primordial being. Not a mere raven, tapping, tapping, oh no, but a hyla cinerea, peering, leering at us with massive eyes and gripping the glass with four elastic, futuristic feet.

What was his purpose? Maybe he’d seen me capturing and relocating some tadpoles a few days earlier and wanted revenge, or just a status report on the young ‘uns. Of course, frogs don’t usually show any “parental investment” beyond mating and laying eggs, but with my luck, maybe I’d ticked off the new age dad of those tads.

frog_ridersmallOr maybe he was just looking for bugs, but if so, one of them found him first.  This is sort of a twist on the classic song “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” by Nat King Cole and others, which begins “The buzzard took the monkey for a ride in the air/ The buzzard told him everything was on the square.”

In any case, our visitor soon tired of trying to breach the defenses and hopped off into the night.  It was just another little reminder that even here in tranquil, perhaps over-civilized suburbia, we’re not the only or even the original tenants.

Unfortunately, these guys may not be around forever.  Will we be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frog follies part 2

Tadpole in water on pool cover.

One of our guests (blurred to protect identity – of photographer)

Coming back from a beach vacation is never pleasant, especially when you start wondering and worrying about what might’ve befallen the house while you were away. My wife and I got home from one blissful, relaxing Florida trip to find our A/C had conked during a sweltering June. Another time, a pinhole-sized leak in a pipe drenched the basement. This summer, the place stayed cool and dry. We just had a bumper crop of tadpoles in the backyard pool.

Yep, those frogs are after us again! Not content with swimming in the pool and serenading us every night, the nervy little critters commandeered the place as their personal Plato’s Retreat and maternity ward. I tell you, friends, if I weren’t such a placid, unflappable, Zen type of guy, I’d be going off on frogs like Newman on dogs: “They have no place living among us! Vile, useless creatures…”

Backyard pool with cover.

The frog farm

Of course, they’re not really useless; among other things, frogs eat mosquitoes, which at the moment are upon us like a Sharknado. The tads weren’t born in the pool itself either, since we’d left it covered, but were in the rainwater that collected on top.

When we first got home, the water seemed ALIVE! with them, probably dozens, wiggling their little tails and darting frantically all over the place. It reminded me of certain, uh, male anatomical scenes from one of those old sex-ed movies we watched in school. (I know, I’m dating myself again. Did I mention the movie was in black and white and was made on something called “film?”)

The population shrank considerably in the next few days, probably becoming a weekend brunch for the birds. I would’ve let the survivors hang around until they grew up, but when I did a little research to refresh my high-school biology, I found it might take 3-4 months, and I figured by that time they’d probably croak.* So this morning, I scooped the remaining taddies into a bucket of water and dropped them into a creek where they might have a chance. Did any of them bother to thank me? Humph.


*One benefit of being older is the freedom to employ bad, overused puns without irony or explanation. Got a problem with that, pilgrim?

Dragonfly days

Blue dragonflyAs long as you don’t have to go home, Saturday morning can be a great time in a beach town. That’s when all the rental places turn over, with the last batch of summer people checking out and the next crowd not arriving until afternoon. This gives us long-term beach bums some precious peace and quiet: no loud pool parties, amateur fireworks shows, golf carts buzzing up and down the streets, or Atlanta-like backups on the highway and in the grocery store.

You can set up your beach chairs wherever you please and walk the white sand without dodging boogie boards. Or you can take your coffee out on the screened porch if you’re lucky enough to have one, listen to the waves and the songbirds, and watch all the dragonflies that appeared in the last couple of days, this time of year being one of their peak seasons.

For me, and I suspect, a good many people my age, life seems a lot like one of these mornings, but not always in an idyllic way. I recently left one career behind, and though I’ve published a couple of short stories, my first novel and my career as a fiction writer are still at an early stage in the countdown. Other people may have children who’ve moved out, graduated, or gotten hitched, but aren’t having grandchildren yet.  And if you have aging parents, your life is always as uncertain as theirs.

Intellectually, I knew this would be a transition time. Emotionally, my attempts to “be here now,” as Ram Dass wrote, are up against the feeling that my life is in the fourth quarter (and sudden death doesn’t include overtime). My body isn’t helping, as it still wants a daily caffeine blast that could waken a dead volcano, and gets crabby when I try to do something important like reaching for a pillow  without getting out of my recliner.

But here by the sea, if you can just open up your senses, the natural, wild world becomes the best medicine. Walking the shoreline, it’s clear that the saying, “It’s never the same beach twice” is the truth, and the new, with long sandbars and higher waterlines, is as beautiful as the old. You realize what miracles those big* dragonflies are as they swoop around the houses and trees, magically hover for a split-second, then dart away.

At night, you go back to the porch and over a few weeks watch Venus and Jupiter move toward each other in the sky, appear for a moment to be almost joined, then pull away again. Things change, and we will too. We always have.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

*How big are they? The other day, one touched down at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, tanked up on jet fuel, and took off for Dallas before anybody figured out what it was. (That’s the kind of joke I’d usually save for a small child, but since none are around, y’all will have to do.)

 

Announcing…my first fiction!

pelican4_v2

Pelecanus occidentalis

As much as I love blogging, I’ve got another kind of writers’ itch that demands a scratch. And now…”The Fourteenth Pelican” is live and ready to read!

If you’re a fan of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, or Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir, you’ll like this short, tongue-in-cheek detective yarn. The hero is an intrepid (?) private eye named E. Z. Green who specializes in environmental cases. In this one, he’s trying to untangle the mystery of some slightly addled shorebirds and save the beautiful beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast (or as some of you may know it, the Redneck Riviera).

Not since “The Maltese Falcon” has the detective genre witnessed such a gripping tale of lust, greed, and — ornithology!

I had a lot of fun writing this. I hope y’all enjoy reading it too.

Believe in…you know

We’re not there yet. After dealing us a pair of historic storms that shut down the city for days on end, the weather gods are playing cat-and-mouse with our hopes. Monday was a t-shirt day, the temperature leaping into the 70s while the sun brightened the green of the new grass, warming both our bodies and our hearts. Then Wednesday dawned gloomy, rainy, and cold, followed by a ferocious afternoon wind that almost knocked me off my pins at the train station and scattered blue recycling bins all over people’s yards. And that damnable daylight saving time cost me some sleep that I can’t wait until October to recoup.

But it’s coming. The robins are hopping around the lawn. The mercury is grudgingly working its way up. Buds are appearing, tree pollen is everywhere and don’t my allergies know it, but I don’t care. The f-word (freeze) hasn’t left the forecasters’ vocabulary, but it can’t be too awfully much longer. A new time, a new world, a new season is only days away.

The most welcome sign of all is right in front of us. These daffodils were here before we bought our house and will still be here if we leave, yet every year, without any coaxing or attention, the leaves slowly rise from the earth, with the stalks and blooms close behind.Daffodils in sunlight.Mundane and maudlin? Could be. But just a few weeks ago, our days were focused on whether we had enough kerosene to stay warm if the power went out, enough batteries to find our way around in the dark, and boy, I sure hope we don’t lose all that good food in the fridge. Now we’re thinking about opening the pool, hosing off the deck furniture, and in my case, savoring that sublime moment when March Madness segues right into Opening Day. Put me in, coach. I’m ready.

Birds of the weather

OspreyAs I’ve said before, Florida sure is an interesting place, especially the wildlife, and no, I don’t mean Justin Bieber in Miami. When my wife and I went down to Ft. Myers last week, our hotel was on a classic suburban strip, yet just a short walk from an old canal that’s also a bike trail, park, and home to lots of birds. We saw a wood stork, great blue and little blue herons, egrets, some ducks I haven’t ID’d yet but looked like they had Mohawk hair, and this osprey.

If you’re a serious birder or watcher, the place to be in that area is the refuge on Sanibel Island. True fact: you can go to Ding Darling to look for the Marbled Godwit. We didn’t see any of those but did get to watch some white pelicans, roseate spoonbills (which look just like their name), and more other species than I have room to list. State parks are one of the things that Floridians do very well.

Little blue heron on sandbankOf course, at this time of year, the native feathered fauna are outnumbered by their flightless, RV and SUV-riding counterparts from up naw-wuth: the snowbirds! From Michigan they come, and Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, the whole Big 10, plus some auxiliary Greater Upper Midwestern states like Ontario and Nova Scotia.

If you think I’m kidding about their numbers, just try to get off Sanibel or onto I-75 in late afternoon; you’ll swear the city had imported Chris Christie to manage traffic. The locals sure know their customers, too. I heard more Bob Seger in restaurants around Ft. Myers than I’ve ever heard anywhere except Detroit.

In fact, most of the interstate south of Atlanta seems designed to fleece the birdies. At the point where anybody coming from Grand Rapids or Wapakoneta is bound to be desperate for a break, there’s a place called “Café Risqué – We Bare All!” and multiple billboards touting not one but two Adult Superstores: the Lion’s Den and Adult Central. I may be old and jaded, but come awwwnnn: how super can a porn shop be?

You can also get “Fireworks – Ground Shaking Mortars,” just the thing for that veteran of Afghanistan, Baghdad, or Khe Sanh in your life. And no trip is complete without visiting the Florida Citrus Center, which also conveniently peddles GATOR HEADS and WIND CHIMES. A bit north of Ft. Myers, there’s a billboard for the “No Needle, No Scalpel Vasectomy!” (If I were the copywriter, I believe I’d just leave out any mention of needles and scalpels altogether.) Then for women whose husbands missed that sign, there’s “My Gynecologist – We Deliver!”

We saw this too: a couple of Confederate flags the size of a barn door on tall poles next to the highway. One was north of Tifton, GA, the other right at the junction of I-75 and I-4, near Tampa. They weren’t flying when we drove down on January 18, but coming back on the 24th, the week of the Martin Luther King holiday, there they were. Coincidence? Not likely.  The snowbirds might think this is common in the South, which it most definitely is not.