Magic of the Everyday, Nature

Happy Height of Summer!

If you’re anything like me, you don’t always register the seasons according to what the calendar says, but rather listen instead to some “interior logic” of your own. So, in my mind, the 4th of July holiday marks the height of summer–and by the same measure, the long slow slide into the dog days, and then into fall.

But we won’t go there yet. Especially now that I’m in north Florida, the cooler weather of autumn is a lo-o-ong way off yet. We’re firmly mired in the sweat and heat and sticky humidity of high summer.

Just now, the first plums from my tree are ripening. (First and last will be pretty close–my whole crop this year, thanks to that late double-whammy frost, will be 6 fruit. Yes, just six–assuming the birds and squirrels don’t steal any.) The tomatoes have given up under the crippling heat and humidity, and the potted fig tree struggles to get enough water to hold onto its ripening fruit, despite my attempts to water it twice a day. Sleeves are not something I want on my clothing in any form after 9 am. Even the dog, a dedicated sun-worshiper, gives up around 10 a.m., and lays panting inside on the relatively cool tile floors. I wipe up puddles of drool, just wishing I could automatically redirect them to the poor, gasping fig tree.

Into all this yuck, spousal unit and I joined up with friends and went out into the Gulf flats around Steinhatchee for scalloping. They’d gone last year, but this was my first time. I was excited to try scalloping and found it was oddly fun and totally relaxing.

Two small, flat-bottomed boats with captains headed out to the shallow scalloping grounds. The season is short enough–just six weeks–so reserving a spot early is always recommended. We were early, but there were already a few boats there. By the time we left, the area was teeming with small craft, and heads and snorkel tubes thickly dotted the flat waters.

Once at our destination, the shore a barely visible line floating a bit above the horizon line due to humidity, we donned snorkel gear and were handed a net bag. I popped overboard into the grassy waters, through which I glimpsed sand and the occasional small fish, and found myself in chest-high water.

The object was to swim along, eyes trained downwards, and look for the scallops moving up higher to feed. The small bivalves shoot water out to “swim” to new locations, and they filter water through ferny, gill-like fronds of bluish-white or orangish-tan. Sometimes the sunlight filtering down would reflect off their blue-black “eyes,” which somehow (they don’t really have eyes, or even brains, so how they manage this is pretty astounding!) sensed creatures coming near and caused the scallop to snap shut and maybe try to shoot away. A few lively ones would chatter even in your hand, snapping their clamshells repeatedly (they were shooting water, trying to dart away).

Floating in the salt water, I spotted blobby, rubbery-looking growths of new coral; gray hued-spider crabs busily eating with their tiny mouths, their outsized legs splayed out around their bodies; small starfish galore, both flat, star-shaped ones and others wrapped tight around thick grasses; various fishes; a horseshoe crab hiding beneath a mound of coral; a quite large hermit crab occupying a lovely conch shell; and so much more.

Despite the snorkel mask and mouthpiece, water still sneaked into the system now and again, lingering in the airtube and rasping ominously with each inhalation and exhalation. Husband said it creeped him out, sounding like looming death in his ear. I found it oddly appropriate, to my mind turning me into the Darth Vader of the Scallops, one by one bringing them ¬†to the Death Star of the boat. He confirmed that I’m weird, and that writing is obviously my calling, which only endeared me to him more. Thus is life good.

And fresh-caught scallops are tasty!

So, a Happy High Summer to you all! May you always be the Seeker, not the Sought.

Magic of the Everyday, Nature

Summer Solstice 2017

This year is continuing to fly in a whirlwind of activity that I only notice as certain dates approach, then disappear. Like tomorrow, the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere.

Really? The longest daylight hours, already? How is this even possible?

And yet, it is. We’ve been having plenty of rain lately, and not as much pure sunshine, but even so it’s easy to tell the skies are bright far later into the evenings. The four plums that were pollinated after our very late frost are red, but not quite ripe. The four-o’clocks are a blooming mass that continues to spread. The pineapple is growing visibly every day! And my garden has some interesting visitors:

I got to see this caterpillar start weaving the chrysalis around itself!
This caterpillar is now a chrysalis!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The caterpillars (there are a few tiny ones left) and cocoon on the dill plants (which I bought for them to save my parsley; it’s working!) are Eastern Black Swallowtails. The caterpillars devouring the passionflower are Zebra Swallowtails, Florida’s state butterfly. There are also two nearby cocoons for the zebra swallowtails which I can’t photograph well. I hope to see some unfurling of new wings as the butterflies emerge.

Happy beginnings of summer to one and all!

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

April Update

I’ve been missing again–sorry. Life has taken a rather “full to the brim” tack, keeping me jumping.

First there’s been an injury to my knee–no surgery, thankfully, but it still hurts, and limits my motions and actions. I’m not good with this. ūüė¶ ¬†Unfortunately, I’m learning.

A rare moment of peace in the sunshine, as Karla waits to steal the bone from Dasher.

Then we did a 2.5 week dog-sit stint. Karla is a pup, bouncy and active and big and strong; basically, all the things Dasher is not. They get along fine, mostly, but Karla sometimes forgets that Dasher’s “no” really means “no,” not “pester me until I give in.” And Dasher sometimes needed reminding that he really does need to share the toys, not need to possess whatever Karla wanted (and vice versa!). We also don’t have a fenced yard, and the dogs wouldn’t walk well together, so it was double dog-walking with a sore knee.¬†Let me tell you, two weeks of this wore me out!

On top of this, the day Karla went home, I¬†discovered termites! Not in the house, fortunately, but far too close by! They swarmed out of the raised garden’s vertical posts, blossoming up and out like endless dandelion seeds, their wings glinting white in the morning sunlight. Kinda pretty, actually, in the way a nuclear mushroom cloud from afar can be pretty. Formosan termites are destructive invaders, and I’ll be happy to see them gone!

Anyway, it’s not all doom and gloom. Strawberries have been ripening in my garden, and the hummingbirds are back. The feeder is filled, and I’ve already seen them hovering there, sipping their fill. Also, my hibiscus are blooming once more, including the expensive true tropical I bought last year. It really suffered through winter, and I wasn’t sure it would make it, which made me very blue. But it’s popped back vigorously as recent temps have soared, and put out its first bloom. To top off the good news, yesterday it poured, raining for hours. We needed that rain so badly! Yay.

On the writing front, I’ve managed to keep writing most through all of this, but ran into a snag with the ending of the final Jessamin book. I needed a bit more oomph–action–going on. It was an easy thing to sketch out once I realized it, but it took me¬†two days of struggling to write to realize what the problem was! I only needed to backtrack two scenes, restructuring them a bit to fit the new layout. It’s going well, and is sooo much more satisfying already.

On that note, I need a bit more “action” myself–on to writing fiction! Happy April, everyone, and if you’ve been having the terrible winter, Happy Spring, as well.

Magic of the Everyday, Nature

Worms in my Kitchen? I’m So Glad!

My worm composter arrived yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, the worms themselves arrived, neatly bagged, then boxed and delivered into my mailbox! Now, the composter is assembled, and the worms are making themselves happy after their trip from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm in PA to north central FL. I’m sure they had quite a shock going from whatever temps PA had, to the upper 80s we’ve been having of late!

Nonetheless, they’ve quit seeking an escape and have settled nicely into the wet coir-and-shredded paper base. Their first light meal is¬†scraps from the previous night’s beets along with¬†mixed used tea leaves and coffee grounds. I’m hoping that they consider it gourmet treats and start digesting it quickly–I can’t wait to start using worm compost on my plants!

Why worm composting? Well, we don’t really freeze here, not for long enough to kill bugs. And, while I was using the neighborhood community garden, each time I went to the compost stack, roaches scattered. I could hear them, not just see them fleeing! It just grossed me out. Our yard is pretty small, so any composter I could get would be close enough to the house to be an attraction to bugs…and you can guess where that goes all too quickly. No way. Uh-uh. I don’t want roaches in my home.

I’ve been depressed about this for some time. We go through quite a bit of compostable material every week, once we return from the farmers’ market–peels, carrot tops, mushroom stems, etc. All that stuff just going to waste, instead of feeding my gardens, made me want to cry.¬† Then it just dawned on me–I could do worm composting without drawing bugs inside!

I haven’t figured out where it’s going to sit yet; this is still a work-in-progress, and it will probably change with the seasons. For now, I’m keeping it close so I can keep an eye on the worms’ adaptation to their home, making sure they survive, thrive, and begin to feed as expected.¬†With any luck, soon you’ll see me taking piles of gorgeous compost out and feeding my plants worm tea!

Worms are in my kitchen, and yes, I’m very, very excited!

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

Spring is a Complicated Season

It’s spring: redbud trees are flushed purple-red, while the plum tree is hazed with tiny white blossoms. Weeds are growing faster than I can pull them, and the sun is warming to a nice dozing temperature every morning (or so the dog reports from his spot on the chair).

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The windows are open, and the house requires¬†neither heat nor air conditioning to remain comfortable. The sun is warm and luscious, the shade is cooling, almost chilly. It’s absolutely the best time of year, here–perfect for walking, kayaking, hiking, gardening.

Then why am I sad? Sitting outside, I hear the echoing plaints of Sandhill cranes winging¬†northward, see the¬†shifting¬†v’s form, merge, and re-form as they begin¬†their long migrations.¬†Despite the beauty, an ache of loss hollows¬†me.

These are my cranes, you see. I like knowing they are near,¬†even if I don’t see them¬†each day. But¬†now, their visit¬†is ending. Their calls, so bittersweet and aching for home, announces it clearly. Before they even are gone, I miss them.

sigh

But you cannot cage the wild soul without altering it, so¬†I would not keep them here. I try to remind myself that without their departure, I would not feel the same joy at their return next December, when the familiar cries of the first flock I hear rocket through me, drawing me up and out to search the sky for a glimpse of something precious, something mysterious and divine–an¬†immense seasonal migration.

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

What I’ve Been Up To Lately (a post full of pics)

It’s Visitor Season here in North Central FL–the worse the weather up north, the more folks want to come visiting in the south (not that I blame them on little bit!). So, we’ve had guests. When my sister stayed, we went to Payne’s Prairie to see the Sandhill crane migration. Nearly 8,000 Sandhill cranes are overwintering here in Alachua County, and they’re guesstimating some 3,000-4,000 are in this park. Along with the Sandhills, a few highly endangered Whooping cranes usually sneak in, staying close to their cousins since they lack numbers to form their own flocks.

img_4426First, let’s get a picture of the alligator I nearly stepped on. Yes, that’s right. Stepped on! With the water at Payne’s Prairie at record lows, this bank is really steep. We’d seen no alligators on this side before now, and it was quite steep at this point, so I didn’t mind straying close to the dried grasses at the edge of the walking dike. Luckily for me, my sister was further to the side and saw this guy’s (lady’s?) head around the grasses it was resting behind. Remember, I’m using my iPhone camera, and they don’t do close-ups so well, all right? THAT’s how close this alligator was, even after¬†I stumbled back and away! You can also see the closed eyes, which I found heartily reassuring. (It had been a very chilly night, so the gators were relieved to bask and warm up.)

img_4363Next, we found the bison. Until this day, I’d only seen the bison once, very, very far off–little dots in the distance that resolved into bison only with spy-glasses (take that, husband dear! he thinks “spy-glasses” is a ridiculous term. ūüėõ ) ¬†Today, no magnification necessary!

Notice the steep bank falling away from the dike. It’s far shallower on the other side, and you can see a bison clambering down near the center, in the distance. The lady in black is snapping photos of a bison almost directly beneath her! And that’s how we come to…

img_4443She wasn’t paying attention when one clambered up beyond her, blocking us all at the end of the one-way path. It moved a few steps away, so we all just waited. Then another one came up between us, blocking her between them. It was a dangerous position, and she knew it, but stepping off the dike into alligator-filled waters seemed a really bad idea, too (turns out, the first bison came up where it did because a huge alligator basked¬†on the bank at the easier way up a few yards further down). Making matters worse, the second bison was pretty determined to join it’s herd-mate, but didn’t want that woman anywhere near it! The one facing me is doing that because I’d just called to it when it started moving towards the woman, head down!

The story has a happy resolution–she managed to sidle over to the other side of the diked path, and then by the bison between us, not raising her head to look it in the eye, as we offered calming words and marked her progress. But we were all still blocked for about another half an hour, until these two decided to rejoin their group in the waters below!

img_4436While waiting for our release, we wandered back a bit, and lo-and-behold, Mother Nature had more awesome experience awaiting us–a bison walking along the opposite shore came up against a basking ‘gator in its path. It stopped, stomped a foot and grunted loudly, threateningly (hey, I felt threatened, and I was across the water from it!). In reply, the gator lifted its head and tail, filled its throat, and hissed its warning back. A tense stand-off ensued, until the bison, never taking its eyes from the gator, circled around the gator and back to the water’s edge trail.

Oh, yes, we came for Sandhill cranes! And Payne’s Prairie provided them:

img_4261We also managed to see a Whooping crane, but only by using aforementioned spy-glasses (!)(thppppt!), so my phone stood no chance of capturing a photo. Maybe someday I’ll get an actual camera again… ¬†Anyway, the noise they make is slightly overwhelming, somewhere between a goose’s honk and a heron’s prehistoric grackle. Multiplied by thousands of birds. Yeah. Overwhelming, and gorgeous.

At the end of the trail is a lookout tower. From there, I got this shot of a lone bison, clouds reflected in the water-hyacinth choked water, and tiny Sandhill-dots in the distance.

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Finally, on the way out, this hyacinth-crowned alligator, which, yeah–again, really close. But this time it was at the bottom of a deeply undercut bank, so it made me smile.img_4445

 

 

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life, the dog, Writing

Where Went October?

pearspersimmons
Pears and persimmons–fall is here!

It’s already the end of October? My neighborhood is already fully invested in it’s over-the-top Halloween decor. We put up our (more reserved) decor offerings yesterday, in the cool and lovely 76F day (except for the cardboard bats–they’ll go up the afternoon of Halloween, so the damp doesn’t do them in). This week, it’s off to buy 1000 pieces of candy for the trick or treaters who’ll show up at our door (did I mention that we always run out early, even so?). Mind-boggling, but true, and let me tell you, it’s so much fun to watch these kids all dressed up literally take over our streets, and to see the gusto that the neighborhood throws into this entertainment. I’m not sure who has more fun–the kids, or the adults!

The weather’s been unseasonably cool in the evenings. It’s dipped down into the 40s the past few nights, and got down to 42F last night. That’s just too close to frost! I’ve started ¬†pulling some potted plants inside at night, and closing windows, and am shifting things about in the garage, getting the frost blankets out for the in-ground delicates should it grow any colder. And doing this in October, especially after the extended heat of summer? Just crazy. We had a bonfire on Saturday evening, and huddled around the bright flames as dark coolness settled in all around us. I toasted a few marshmallows, and we drank cider, and life was good.

emptyThe night before that, spousal-unit and I had “date-night”–an actual dinner out at a nice restaurant, just the two of us. It was lovely to talk and enjoy one another’s company without doing dishes after, or shopping and cooking it all. We both had delicious meals, too–proof of the fact is this photo: I couldn’t stop long enough to take a pic until the plate was clean! Trust me, it was that good.

We also visited Payne’s Prairie. The water levels are remarkably low right now–the lowest they’ve been in a decade according to a ranger who chatted with us. No one really understands why; the whole regions infrastructure of sinks and springs is pretty poorly understood even today, so what affects the water levels, and how, isn’t always apparent.

freerideWith less water to hide in, we saw more alligators sunning and swimming. And some babies were clearly visible in the shallows on the right side of the diked trail. The low waters also mean that the wild cracker horses have to come closer to alligator-infested waters to drink, like these beauties with their “riders.” You know that’ll mean some equine–and alligator–casualties to come.

orangingup
Yum on the way!

My tiny little tangerine tree is bowed over with its load of fruit, which has begun to change from orange to green! Hurray! As have the orange and tangerine trees in the neighborhood. Our¬†Meyer lemon tree has just started to show yellowing on a couple lemons. We got a bunch of persimmons from the orchard just down the road and have been feasting on them. I bought a few gorgeous pears at the grocery store, as well, and they’re looking gorgeous here until they finish ripening and we eat them up–yum!

And then we come to Dasher. Ah, poor Dasher. He started limping again. Just a bit, at first, so we suspected it was his patella slipping out of place. Until one day, he started hobbling 3-legged again. And didn’t stop. A trip to the vet and a set of x-rays later confirmed that no, his patella seemed fine, but his remaining ACL was ruptured. And so–another surgery.

checkingin
Checking in at UF Small Animal Hospital for surgery–again.

He’s in recovery now, but we have another concern. His seizures aren’t being totally blocked by the meds he’s on (3 different ones at this time). Small near-seizure ‘episodes’ slip through, on about a 10-day to 2-week cycle–way too frequently, especially given his med dosages. And his liver isn’t able to handle more of these meds. In fact, we’re doing another monitoring blood test later this week. So in November, he’s going for an MRI of his brain, to check whether there is some physical (correctible) reason for these seizures. And honestly, I’m not sure what to hope. “Yes” means he might have a chance of getting off all these meds. But it also means another surgery–quite literally, brain surgery! I’m really tired of putting him through these things (he’s not quite 3 yet, and this is surgery 5 that he’s recovering from now), of feeling guilty for his pain and confusion, even while knowing that it’s the right thing to do. But a “No” means we have to keep looking for meds and dosages that will control the seizures without killing him or making him sick. And we’ve been through 4 common medicines already, so what are the chances of this happening? Sigh.

Around all this, writing has been happening (but not by zombies)! Honest! I’ve made good progress on Book 2 of the Jessamin trilogy, and have edited 2 short stories–one newly written, and one that needed a final (I hope!) thoughtful (and therefore slow and difficult) edit to sharpen and hone. One is out on submission now, trying its wings for the first time. The other is waiting a bit, the timing not being right for its next¬†submission quite yet. But soon… .

Nature, Personal Life

Autumn Equinox

Tomorrow is the autumn equinox, that¬†time¬†when daylight and nighttime are given equal 12-hours portions of the day. It’s nature’s divide between summer and fall, here in the northern hemisphere (and winter and spring in the southern hemisphere).

When I lived further north, it was always a bittersweet time for me. I loved summer’s warmth, the long nights spent lounging outside on the deck watching the stars arc overhead and raccoons traveling by “aerial highways” made from electric wires strung at the back of our block’s¬†properties. But I also loved the cooling weather, the gorgeous fall foliage, the brisk breezes and the calls of migrating geese passing overhead. Cider, pumpkins, and the first lighting of the wood-burning stove were all things to be gladly anticipated.

Here in north-central Florida, it’s still the fall equinox. But now I look forward to different things: cooler weather, yes, but now it’s simply pleasantly bearable, not crisp, that I’m looking forward to. Mid-day walks without needing a shower afterwards? ¬†!!! ¬†What bliss!¬†And I’m looking forward to having the windows open at mid-day, again, too. Fresh air inside–hurray!

Persimmons will be coming into their too-short season, and afterwards, fresh citrus will arrive at the farmers’ markets. On walks, large Golden Orb Spiders and their often 3-dimensional webs are seen along the paths, which I admit kind of creep me out even as they fascinate me. It’ll be a long time ’til¬†we’ll need to use the fireplace for warmth, but we may have a fire in the outside fire pit some evening, just for the joy of it. ¬†Instead of geese flying overhead,¬†I’ll start craning my ears to hear the returning Sandhill Cranes sometime in December. And now I can start planting¬†veggies in the garden again, overwintering crops like spinach, leeks, broccoli, and beets quite easily in this milder climate.

Here’s to a blissful autumn for us all, wherever you may be.