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Alone Again, Unnaturally

Sunday, January 21, 2007


I'm sitting by a roaring fire (ahh, wireless!) in our living room. Chet has his paws on my knee and is licking my face. Nobody seems to be getting enough kisses, least of all me. Bill's playing music for a very small brunch crowd at the Blennerhassett. You'd have to be an avid jazz fan with a four-wheel drive to come out in this weather. Small subset of Parkersburgians. Phoebe is reading a book about a mistreated beagle named Shiloh. Liam is ferrying little chunks of snow from the deck to the fireplace, watching them melt, chattering away the whole time. There are maybe three inches of fresh powder on the ground--our first snow of the winter, and here it is January 21! The kids have been sledding all day, and their run has gotten slick enough that it now dumps them in a stand of multiflora rose down along the edge of the woods. Hot cocoa has been imbibed. They had four days off for MLK day right before I left. Chances are there won't be school Monday, either. Moms, can you read between the lines? Gimme a silent scream if you can.

I've spent the day processing clothing. Romantic, exciting... exactly like signing books and schmoozing people, only different. When I'm home, I average a load, often two, of laundry washed and folded per day. So when I'm gone, it piles up really fast. I've plowed through my suitcase and backpacks, and cleaned the living room and kitchen.

Hi, Mommy! We missed you so much!
Hi darling! Mwah! I missed you so much, too! Now pick up your toys!

As a reward for putting myself right back into the yoke of domesticity, I downloaded the last of the Florida shots. Memories...It feels so good to be able to put birds up on the blog! When people describe this as a birding blog I scratch my head. It's anything but. I couldn't limit it to birds if I tried, so I don't try.

It was really disorienting to come from temperatures in the teens to temperatures in the upper 70's, from gray and brown to green and magenta and blue. After the initial confusion, I just reveled in the warm, moist breeze and the feel of sun on my skin at long last. I drove around with all four windows down, scraps of paper with directions on them blowing around the front seat. Every moment with nature was stolen, though, because having two flights, two talks and a radio interview, with two dinner dates thrown in, and each of those an hour or more apart, in only four days meant I had to hit the ground running and not stop. Put 375 miles on the rental car, and another 225 on mine. The rental car was a little silver Pontiac with a hopelessly slanted windshield (impossible to bird through); inexplicably huge blind spots (giant struts like blinders, holding said windshield up) and the turning radius of a school bus. I am only 5'5", and I had to fold myself double and bend my head sideways just to get into it. Bill would never have fit in this car. He literally would have had to lie down to drive. How do they do it? I mean, when they pick cars for rental fleets, do they go to manufacturers and say, "I want the MOST ANNOYING little car you've got! I mean, a REAL STINKER. And I want thirty of 'em!" Not complaining, but allow me to complain some more.

I missed breakfast and lunch the whole time I was there. I lived on a little container of seafood salad, some prefab sushi from Target, Corn Nuts, clementines, and a screw-top bottle of Australian shiraz, gnoshing as I drove from one thing to another. I'd fall into bed at midnight and get up at six. Still, it was really nice not to have to worry about anyone but myself. I could never subject the kids to a schedule and diet like that. It reminded me of college days, when I'd stick my finger in a jar of peanut butter and dip it in my parakeet's millet for texture. Dinner, taken care of. It was a nice change from caring for my family. Bill took that over and did a wonderful job. How I missed them! even as I enjoyed the solo time. Ahh, I wanted my sweetie there.This male osprey is preparing to deliver a fish to his incubating mate. She was shrieking at him the whole time. But male ospreys almost always eat the fish's head before they bring it to the nest. It's like a little tax on the present. They make their mates wait, but they hear about it the whole time. Shreeep! Shreep! shreepshreepshreepshreepshreepshreepshreep!!!

There are birds everywhere in South Florida. They're big and showy and tame. Wood storks stalk the roadside ditches (though there were not nearly as many as before). Herons and egrets are common, since they winter and nest there, too. If you can't get a good picture of a bird on Sanibel Island, there's something wrong with you. So don't be too impressed with these pictures, because the birds just SIT there and let you shoot away. They are completely acclimated to the press of humanity. Wish I could be so cool about it (more on that later). I noticed this little yellow-crowned night heron after I'd taken about twenty shots of a preening brown pelican across an inlet.
The night heron (an immature) was literally right at my feet, standing silently, waiting to be noticed. Or, more correctly, not giving a dang whether I noticed him or not. Here, his nictitating membrane is coming across his eye, cleaning it.
The everyday beauty on Sanibel and Captiva Islands is stunning. Even in raunchy light, these roseate spoonbills took my breath away. I loved the little Degas dancer, preening her tutu in the hard afternoon light. What I could do with this in watercolor! Figures that the most colorful birds were situated in almost impossible lighting conditions.

My friends Judy and Dan, who very kindly took me birding in the closed refuge on Friday morning (thanks a million!!), told me that roseate spoonbills, unlike scarlet ibises and flamingoes, don't need to get carotene from their diet to turn or stay pink. Flamingoes and ibises eat shrimp, and that's where they get their carotene, which they dump into their plumage, enhancing its color. Spoonbills eat fish. No carotene there. Isn't that cool? And nobody figured it out until recently because spoonbills in zoos were automatically fed the same carotene supplements the flamingoes got to "keep them pink." So why would it work that way, that one species produces pink plumage automatically, and another has to make it with the food it eats? Dunno.

Beauty, and its abundance: The residents doubtless get inured to it, but you do see a heartening number of people flocking to the beaches to watch the sunset each evening. That's neat--to see people planning their evening around appreciation of a natural event. It's also nice to be out photographing things, because nobody stops to comment on it or ask questions or stare at you. Since I take most of my bird photos from a prone position, getting in the most unthinkingly ridiculous postures in search of the right point of view, that's a real plus.Morning light bathes some little blue-winged teal and a pair of preening mottled ducks. Mottled ducks are mallard-like, except that they're a distinct species, for now. Males look just like females--a lovely tawny tan with pale tan heads. And catch that shade of teal on the wing speculum! Note that it lacks the white speculum borders that mallards show. Apparently mallards are mating with mottled ducks elsewhere in Florida, endangering them further. Those mallards--they'll mate with anything with a pulse. So we must enjoy mottled ducks while we can, because before too long, thanks to genetic swamping, they'll just be motley ducks.
The only other alligator I saw, besides the ten-footer sunning along Alligator Alley. I doubt this guy was three feet long, but he was lovely, and I was glad to see him.
As you can imagine, I took a LOT of pictures in Florida. So there will be lots of bird posts coming up. For awhile, this will be a birding blog, and then we'll go back to Chet Baker, kids, laundry, trees, suet dough, and general navel-gazing.

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