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Gettin' Out!

Thursday, February 8, 2007


Accepting dates to give talks in February and March--well, any time in winter--is a leap of faith. Pittsburgh is about three hours from here, if you allow for traffic jams. There are always traffic jams around Pittsburgh. But the Three Rivers Birding Club made such a nice invitation that I knew I had to make the drive. Sure enough, snow started coming down the afternoon before, and it snowed until about midnight, dumping five inches of gorgeous, iridescent flakes on the two-inch base already there. I decided not to worry about it, realizing that it was going to be what it was going to be, and that's why I have four-wheel drive on my ol' '95 Explorer. Shila had cleared her very busy schedule a couple of months back, and she bravely agreed to accompany me.
I was glad to be getting out. I've had my head firmly inserted in my navel for a couple of weeks now. Cabin fever, Bill away for a week; kids out of school for most of two solid weeks, midlife musings, ridiculously cold weather...all the elements are there for a Zick version of The Shining. We keep the hatchets in the garage.
The moment I turned out into the driveway and felt the strong wheels of my car/truck grip the snow, I was glad to be getting out. The dawn greeted me with pastel delights. The road was pretty terrible, but the white snow covering its surface was at least tinged beige with sand. I felt thoroughly cared for.
Shila and I met at the gas station by the highway, and after some futzing around hit the highway. Oh, it was good to be out with my best gal, yakkin' up a storm. I hoped I wouldn't be too hoarse by the time I had to give my reading. Shila is wise and wonderful, and she helps me see larger truths. Coming down our county road into a little hamlet of Bonn.
The drive was incredibly beautiful, the rising sun hitting off fresh snow on pines. Shila and I agreed that the high mountains of West Virginia can make us feel a bit closed in. They're dramatic and magnificent and they're nice in small doses, but I need to see more sky than that. Appalachian Ohio is a nice compromise between open plains (which I also love) and high mountains. Look at this landscape not far from Wheeling, the Dickinson Cattle Company property. Love it, love it. It kisses the sky.
Every time I go to Pittsburgh, I wonder why I don't just plan a weekend there. There is so much to see and do; the food is great, the people are quirky and fun, almost like Baltimorons, and the city is a jumbled delight. The Phipps Conservatory was exactly what the doctor ordered. Sun pouring in on our faces and beauty at every turn. It has a big ol' extravagant Victorian feel, and each greenhouse has a different intoxicating scent--wet earth, jasmine, the powdery smell of pansies in bloom; orange blossoms, the complex aromas of orchids...Shila and I swooned for three straight hours.
A species Paphiopedalum that made me laugh out loud with delight. It's like a loopy bird, tadaaa! here I am!
The bonsai conservatory is stunning. They're all tropicals, heavy on the Ficus species, venerable and impressive. This tree was huge--almost four feet tall. That hole in the trunk had to have been hand-carved out. I have a hard time imagining carving a hole in one of my treasured bonsais, but some people do it. It's a good effect, a Wizard of Oz tree. And I reject the idea that these plants are being tortured. They're working, and serving a high purpose as pieces of living art. And they look like they're enjoying their job. Think those trees don't know they're loved and admired?We practically had the place to ourselves this Wednesday afternoon. How I loved the aesthetic working here. A wall of maidenhair ferns, and that perfect little statue.
We finally made our way to the finale--the new Thai wing. Gorgeous architecture, intelligent design! and lots of waterfalls. The only thing lacking were little birds, maybe white-eyes, flitting through. Wish they'd have some birds in there...These fan palms looked to me like music sounds. They've got rhythm and rhyme and melody in their planes and pleats. The sun beat in on my face, though it was about 13 degrees outside. I sat down on a bench and before I knew it I was reclining and then I was asleep. Shila looked at me as I woke up. befuddled and grinning, and commented that this was probably the first time I'd taken some time out for myself for several months. I realized that she was right. Soon, it was time to gather ourselves and go give the talk. It was great--full of new and old friends, 97 strong. Ken Parkes, a mentor from way back, made the effort to come to the talk, and we reconnected and shared a few quiet moments together. What an honor to see Ken and Ellen again. The incomparable Larry Barth was my slide changer, since my remote died. Jack and Sue Solomon, Claire and Eric Staples, Pam and Bob Mulvahill, Pat and Sherron Lynch, David LIebmann, man of letters... it was old home week, and loads of fun.
Well, with this big fat post I have to tell you I'm going to take some more time...to go to Guatemala next week. There won't be wireless where we're going; I may even leave the laptop home. Everybody needs a vacation sometime, even if it's a working vacation. Bill and I will be together with nothing to do but look for birds, laugh and have fun with our friends. I'll come back with a camera full of ocellated turkeys and trogons and a head ready for spring. It's anything but black and white in Guatemala.

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