Over 16,000 years ago a glacier retreat left behind a rocky landscape in southern New England. Then roughened rocks were smoothed by forces of water, debris and other weathering influences.
I am drawn by the beauty of these rocks. The sculptural elements mesmerize. The sun’s rays make a warm seat with no cushion. The river flowing is the soundtrack for meditation.
There is comfort in the sight of things that were here before us and will remain long after. It gives perspective in turbulent times. Our relatives lived through dreadful diseases, world wars, poverty and hunger.
The hope is that fresh minds will bring a kinder and more equitable world order. Much depends on the values we pass on. Our children will run the world long after we are gone. Rocks can be smoothed after a glacial assault.
I never had the experience of being the center of the universe. Lessons appeared frequently to reinforce that, and still do.
When I was 10, my father forgot me at church. With a handful of kids packed in a station wagon, that’s no surprise. I walked outside after having a cookie and punch, and looked up and down the street for the car. Nowhere to be found.
I didn’t panic. I knew plenty of people were still in the church. All were good friends of ours. It was a lovely day, and I just waited until my family got home and realized something was amiss. Sure enough, about 30 minutes later my dad showed up. A quick apology and we were on our way.
I don’t remember having any nightmares about this. It just reinforced the lesson from my youth that the world never did, and never would, revolve around me.
The vision was beautiful. Who can say where such things come from?
The tent was reminiscent of childhood camping trips, and the man was my father. He stood in the center of the tent with his hand on the pole in the center. I remember him telling me when I was little not to touch the pole when there was lightning. Always the one to watch over us, I wasn’t surprised that he was standing and my other aunts and uncles were sitting quietly.
“You made it!” he said. That would have been my line if he hadn’t beat me to it. My dad passed last April and the afterlife is never far from my thoughts. One moment I was reclined on my couch recovering from the office virus, listening to a gentle rain recording, and the next moment I was in my father’s presence.
Most things about the supernatural can never be explained. Was this an actual vision, a gift from God or the creative mind at work? It doesn’t matter, really. What I experienced was transcendent and comforting.
Holding on with sticky pad feet outside my door, the vigilant gekko prepares for an active evening. The ones that live outside my door in South Florida come alive at night. They hover near the lights where moths and other insects are drawn. As I walk up the apartment steps, I see about one gekko on watch per door. They work alone and are apparently territorial.
In a cold snap, gekkos will try to get into the house to wait for the air to warm outside. It doesn’t happen very often, but I keep watch to make sure they get out of the house alive. One time, I was sure that a gekko watched my steps and ran out along side me as I opened the door to leave. That’s when it first occurred to me that these reptiles had more intelligence than I gave them credit for.
The young child skating feels the cold on her face and fingertips. Her ankles are strong and seldom tire. The pine trees are fragrant, and set against a blue sky. The ice is bumpy and littered with snow. She’ll skate for an hour with the sun blinding her movements. She’s not afraid to fall. When her toes begin to chill, she knows to walk home before her feet lose feeling. That is all that she is thinking.
I would prefer this flannel shirt if it didn’t have buttons on the cuffs. Actually, I may start a fashion trend wearing my cuffs unbuttoned and just flapping at the wrists. I have also just rolled the cuffs up once or twice and felt less constricted.
Just like I could wear that dress that doesn’t have a belt around the middle, and the sweater that doesn’t touch my neck. Or the jeans that don’t cramp my ankles. Or panty hose that won’t rip when putting them on. Camisoles that won’t put one in momentary panic when they get stuck on your head as you pull them on. Please give me a zipper on those torture shirts!
Clothing that inhibits movement and breathing are causing me to lose patience rapidly. If I were a fashion designer, I know a few “non-negotiables” I would institute. Alas, I’m not, so I just have to be more careful with my choices, and repurpose things to fit my style.
The boardwalk by the ocean has both beauty and elegance with an old carousel. I was lucky enough to ride the wooden horses in Asbury Park before they were sold.
The Jersey shore with its carnival allure will always live in my heart. Hot, giant pizza slices and flip flops on the wooden planks are hard to forget. Arcade games, beach braids and custard cones make me nostalgic for my girls to be young again.
The working family’s summer vacation to Seaside Heights, Long Beach Island, Atlantic City or Point Pleasant may beat any trip the wealthy take abroad. Tonight, I am still a Jersey girl.
Thunder and white strikes of blinding light wake me. I can’t sleep now as my mind goes to how you always protected us.
On summer camping trips, when the storms came, we never got wet. There were canopies on picnic tables, tarps as rain drenched, hot soup, snug sleeping bags and always a dry deck of cards for play.
Loud crashing sounds now, and I lie endlessly awake, waiting for the storm to move into the distance. I wonder if you hear the thunder now, too. There was a time I knew what you thought about. I’m not so sure anymore. Time steals many things from us. One is our ability to think, remember and respond to all that is around us.
You will be back home in a few days, and a new normal will begin. The family will warm the soup, fluff the pillows and mind your every step to keep you from danger.
I’ve been keeping my hands clear from metal tent poles for years now. I’ve held flashlights in my sleep in case I need to move in the night. I’ve practiced taking care of myself for a very long time. Still, approaching storms make my heart race and wish for my father to tell me that everything will be all right.
Meeting Rick West was like meeting a phenomenon of nature itself. The boyish enthusiasm and energy permeated his 80-something body. A restless and exacting man arrived at our apartment at around 6:30 one Saturday morning in May a couple of years ago. We were about to go on a bird observation and count in my general neighborhood.
Who is Rick West? He is a bird-enthusiast and former chemist out of Tallahassee, Florida who holds a claim to fame of championing the Delaware State bird atlasing some years back. When we met, he was in the driver seat to do the same in his native Florida. A bird never had a more relentless friend and advocate than Rick.
How did Rick arrive from Tallahassee to my neck of the woods (Everglades) to do a bird count? My youngest daughter met him in Tallahassee while attending Florida State University. She was doing medical volunteer work, and encountered Rick. In conversation, he learned where she grew up, and he shared his interest in birds. She mentioned her mother was “interested” in birds. Rick was looking for amateurs in this part of Florida for the records he was collecting.
Before I knew it, I had a three inch thick book from Rick titled “Birds of Delaware” and a laminated parking pass to show that I had special parking permissions for the task I agreed to take on. Bird atlasing is a counting of species observed in certain areas during non-migratory parts of the year. I gave myself a crash course on the species that I might observe. I had to ratchet up my “interest” to a reasonably informed observer in my neighborhood.
Months before Rick arrived at our doorstep, I visited endless parks and nature spots in about a 10 mile area. I wanted to at least be able to show him where the various species were observed by me. This paid off in dividends.
When Rick arrived, I think he and his grandson were surprised that my daughter and I had mapped out the route to observe the birds. It was an efficient plan to move methodically around the area and hit the spots when the birds were most likely to be observable and abundant. Rick timed himself for about three minutes at each of a dozen sites, observed and listened, noting his observations on a clipboard. He had a GPS drop of each location he made observations on.
He wanted to hit the everglades before about 10 a.m. The plan was to hike out on the dike about one mile in. We were in search of a yellow-throated warbler (or was it yellow-rumped)?! Anyway, it was a bird that there was concern about. We did manage to see one in a bush. Along the way, we saw red-winged blackbirds. Living only about two miles from that spot, I was surprised I hadn’t seen any outside of the preserve zone. Rick said it had to do with spraying that is done. That species eats the insects that the insecticides kill in developed areas.
Along the way, we passed an alligator about 20 feet below the dike and the footpath. My daughter and I were reluctant to pass, but Rick kept trudging. “My mother taught us not to be afraid of wildlife that doesn’t see us as food.” We weren’t so sure, but kept following Rick anyway.
Our bird observation day gave us sightings of ibis, herons, purple gallinules, crows, mockingbirds, shrikes, cardinals and a few other species. I learned that ordinary observers can contribute to the greater good when matched with leadership like Rick’s. As we came out of the everglades area, we had to squeeze under and through a fenced area. We asked Rick if he needed any assistance. “I’m not planning on using my age card any time soon,” was his response. No kidding.