Thursday, January 30, 2014

Misty river morning

 The first thing I saw when I arrived at the dam this morning was a bald eagle circling above the water and diving feet-first for fish. I fumbled to grab the camera and get out of the car, but it's hard to move quickly when you're encased in thick layers of wool and fleece. By the time I got the lens cap off, the eagle was gone.

The temperature was 8 degrees below zero, or possibly 6, but at that point, how much difference would 2 degrees make? I lumbered across the snow toward the river and within minutes my face hurt, but I stayed and watched the seagulls and waited for eagles. (We saw three yesterday or possibly four, depending on whether we saw the same juvenile twice.) The river is frozen for long stretches but here the water tumbles over the dam and tosses up a fine mist to frost the trees and the road and my car and my glasses. 
It's cold out--really cold. I watch the seagulls, enjoy the sunrise. My cheeks hurt and my eyes water. I look upstream and then back down, watch the seagulls, admire the lily-pad shapes of floating ice chunks. The cold seeps up through layers of boot and wool. I scan the treetops in search of the pair of eagles we saw yesterday perched just over there. My toes start to scream.

I turn away toward the car, take off my gloves so I can get the lens cap back on and start putting everything away, and suddenly there it is again, a mature bald eagle swooping above the water and disappearing into the mist before I can grab the camera.

Eagle, river, rising mist--I grasp the majestic image in my mind, holding it close until it fades into the cold and fog.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Random bullets of midweek muddling

  • Whoever assumes that college professors work only a few hours a week ought to take a look at the piles of student drafts I've been taking home every evening. What kind of idiot assigns drafts in four classes in the same week? (Um, that would be me.) I finish commenting on one set of drafts just in time to collect the next set, and then I have to comment on them right away or I'll get inundated by the next set. Why do I do this to myself?
  • The most common comment I'm writing on drafts in my literature classes is "An analysis essay composed entirely of plot summary is unlikely to earn a passing grade." Putting it perhaps too gently?
  • The local birding group (made up mostly of retired professionals with lots of time on their hands) sent out a flurry of e-mails the other day notifying anyone interested that a harlequin duck had been sighted about 15 miles from where I sit, with frequent updates from every single person who went in search of the visiting duck: "It's swimming in a spot of open water just below the bridge! Now it's moved downstream! I saw the duck I saw the duck! And by the way, I dropped my cell phone somewhere so if you happen to see one in the snow out there, it's mine!" Part of me wanted to drop everything, bundle up, and brave the arctic vortex to go in search of a duck that rarely visits our waters, but I had all those papers to read--and besides, it was cold. Next morning came word that the water had frozen over and the duck was nowhere to be seen, but I still enjoy living in a world in which receiving frequent passionate bulletins about a visiting harlequin duck can be considered normal(ish).
  • And today, eagles. The birding group reports that 12 or 14 bald eagles are hanging out and hunting just below a dam that happens to be more or less on my way home. If I leave here while it's still daylight, I'm looking for eagles.
  • I'll take away with me today the joy of teaching Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat." (Join us on the Lido Deck where we'll be nibbling the sacred cheese of life, but don't expect pie. Don't even think about pie.) But I'm trying to forget the panicky looks on the faces of my Florida Lit class when I made them do a small-group activity focusing on three assigned readings that very few had actually read. Yes, students, life is difficult. Get over it and move on. (But don't think about pie.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Writing with my students

My Creative Nonfiction students are doing some free-writing in class and I ought to be joining them but I forgot to bring a pen. Me! An English professor! With no pen! I wouldn't blame my students if they stood up and pointed their fingers at me and said, "What kind of person comes to a writing class without a writing implement? Writing is what we do! Every day!" But they are kind and gracious people so they overlook my error.

And they keep writing. Writing and writing and writing. They're not allowed to stop until I tell them. "This will disempower the little voices in your head that tell you to stop, go back, fix things," I promise them. "You have to keep writing until I tell you to stop, so the little voices in your head eventually stomp off in a huff and sulk." 

I also promised them that I'd give them five minutes and then tell them to stop, but there's no clock in the room so they won't know whether I keep my promise. I could let them keep writing right through the lunch hour and they wouldn't complain, at least right at first. Eventually they might notice that they've turned the page a few too many times or their wrists will get sore and they'll shoot me some pleading looks.

Give them a break and let them quit or make them keep writing forever? I'm feeling lunchish. Time's up! 

Monday, January 27, 2014

A sharp spike in the GNCCI

Goldfinch gives a red-breasted nuthatch the cold shoulder.
I was talking to a relative on the phone yesterday and he nearly hyperventilated when he heard about our current cold spell. "Oh no!" he said, "What are you going to DO!??"

Well, what are the options? I suppose we could ditch our jobs to pursue careers making cutesy crafts from driftwood on some warm Caribbean beach, but that would be WAY too predictable. 

Or we could contribute to the Gross National Complaints about Cold Index (GNCCI), but that inevitably leads to tedious discussions about the computation of windchill and whether objective measures of temperature can be separated from subjective experience--or, is it really as cold as I think it is, and what does the word "really" mean in this context?

Or, speaking of GNCCI, we could crank up the thermostat and hunker down indoors making and eating homemade gnocchi, but an expanding waistline would result in more flesh to feel the cold.

Or I suppose we could just bundle up and endure the cold as gracefully as possible.

Nah. Never happen.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The things we tell deliverymen

1. If you put our mailing address
into your gps system,
it will lead you to a town five miles from our house.
Please do not leave our new washing machine there.

2. Call if you get lost,
but be aware
that you'll find no cell reception
in our neck of the woods.
Backtrack to the state highway
to find a tower.

3. Yes, our bridge can carry your truck without collapsing.
Those steel I-beams haven't bent 
under many other trucks just like yours. 
Trust me on this:
just keep driving.

4. Halfway up the hill 
you'll find the garage,
but don't stop there!
First, the garage is not the place to install a washing machine,
and second, 
you won't be able to turn around.

5. When you reach the house
at the top of the hill,
you'll be greeted by a large, friendly dog
(or possibly more if her friends are visiting).
Do not be afraid: she will not hurt you.
if you leave your truck's door open
with a McDonald's bag sitting on the seat,
she'll gleefully jump in 
and snatch your lunch.

6. I am at work. I will not be there.
Ditto my husband.
Our son will be there to accept delivery.
(He is an adult.
Please treat him like one.)

7. After you've installed our new washing machine,
please leave the old one on the front porch,
not because we're trying to improve our
Appalachian street cred
but because we've promised it to a friend
who considers a nonfunctional appliance
an incredible boon.

8. Call if you have questions!
(But remember:
there's no reception.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Spam assessment

You expect people to believe you're a museum curator when you don't know how to spell "museum"?

I'm talking to my e-mail spam folder where today there appeared a plea for help written by a fellow whose generic Bob Smith kind of name is attached incongruously to prose that looks like what a very bad translation program spits out. Whoever hides in the shadows behind this generic Bob Smith moniker, he or she could use a writing class.

That ought to be an assignment in my Creative Nonfiction class: write a spam message so convincing that readers just can't resist sending you money. I mention this idea in class and one of my students suggests that we set up PayPal accounts and see whose spam appeal earns the most cash. Finally, a flawless method of  Outcomes Assessment! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Don't send my students to the dead-letter box!

I'm trying to explain to my husband why a particular student's behavior is haunting me and all I can say is "He just seems so lost," but he says "Lost how?" and I don't know how to answer. Lost in a fog, lost in illusion, unable to make meaningful choices and unaware of the need to develop this ability. Just lost.

Found in a desk drawer: a bundle of sealed envelopes bearing students' names. Four years ago I asked my honors students to write letters to their future selves explaining their aspirations: Where do you expect to be in May 2014? How will you get there? What obstacles might you encounter? How will you deal with them?

I've saved those letters for four years and now it's time to deliver them. I flip through the pile and am pleased to note that I've maintained contact with most of these students, except one or two who transferred out. Several have changed majors (some more than once!) while others have remained planted in their original soil, but both groups have found ways to thrive and blossom. Of the 15 students represented, three graduated early despite mastering demanding subjects. Every name, though, recalls to my mind a strong character focused on specific goals, and even if their goals may change over time, I have no doubt that they will find their way.

My lost student is another story, and, sadly, he's not one but many. They don't know what they want or they set goals based on some skewed understanding of reality, or if they set realistic goals that can be achieved here, they sabotage their own efforts. Maybe they're struggling with problems at home or maybe they're sick in body or mind or addicted to drugs or drinking or computer games, and then what do I do? I can provide directions to the Counseling Center or the Writing Center or the Academic Resource Center, but sometimes the lostness seems to penetrate into the depths of the student's soul and where is the Center for that?

My students' found letters make me feel hopeful and competent but my lost students haunt me, making me wonder how I can help them find their way, but they don't respond to my messages or they disappear and then, over time, they turn into empty names on folders in the "inactive" drawer in my filing cabinet, lost even to memory. What can help my lost students get found?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Driving to work on a snowy morning

Whose tracks these are I do not know,
But I will drive upon them so
I do not end up skidding here
Into the woods filled up with snow.

My little car must think it queer
To drive without a pathway clear
Between the woods and frozen creek,
The slipp'riest morning of the year.

He gives his wobbly wheels a shake
To slide away from some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of snowplows shoving slush and flakes.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have classes I must teach,
And miles to skid before I sleep,
And miles to skid before I sleep.

(With apologies to Robert Frost.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dusky spectres spawned by winged dreams

I'm not sure what I saw while driving home from work tonight, but I know what I wanted to see: an eagle. Or, better yet, a pair of eagles. That's what a member of our local birding group reported seeing yesterday on the west side of the Muskingum River about a mile south of Lowell--exactly where we kept seeing a pair of eagles two years ago, perched in a tall tree inside a wide curve in the river, where the iconic birds could scan a great distance upstream and down.

That's what I was looking for and that's what I may have seen while driving home from work tonight, but maybe not. The light was poor and the traffic was moving at a brisk pace up the highway so I could devote only a small fraction of my attention to the trees along the river. The first time past I saw something big and dark enough to be an eagle stretching out what may have been wings, but a truck interrupted the view and then I would have had to turn around in my seat to see it, which is not the way to arrive alive.

So instead I turned the car around and made another pass, which revealed not one but two eagle-sized patches of black right where we kept seeing eagles two years ago. Were they eagles or blobs of leaves or dusky spectres spawned by my winged dreams? How can I trust what I see when my eyes are so easily fooled by a touch of twilight and an urgent need to shape a dark blob into the form of an eagle?

And what will I see tomorrow morning when I drive past that spot in the daylight? I'm almost afraid to look.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

My little hitch-hiker

I hadn't seen my granddaughter in three weeks but when I walked into the house, she immediately stretched out her arms to me. Can her busy little brain remember me? Or is she a gregarious hitch-hiker seeking a lift from anyone willing to stop, a prickly burr holding tight to any passing leg?

She's more urgently vertical than she was at Christmas, pulling and reaching and stretching up up up. In baby swim class this morning she slapped the water, kicked her pudgy little legs like propellers, stretched her arms toward the rubber duck. With help from her parents she did the hokey-pokey and floated on her back but declined to blow bubbles in the water. Homework: practice blowing bubbles!

I remember holding my babies in the pool, helping them float and letting them feel that delicious weightlessness. They would jump into water way over their heads with no fear, no hesitation, just eagerness to fling themselves headlong into an unfamiliar environment, trusting that someone would be catch them. When do they lose that perfect trust? What makes them stop reaching out to embrace the unfamiliar?

Friday, January 17, 2014

An absence of trippers and askers

This week I've taught poems by Walt Whitman in two different classes and in both students have complained that they don't have any idea what Whitman is talking about. A few said that they just don't get poetry, which I understand: poetry-phobia is a nearly universal condition among college students, even among English majors. But come on, we're not talking about Louis Zukofsky here! This is Whitman, our old pal Walt, who celebrates himself and sings himself while claiming to speak for all of us in the voice of Everyman, who begs us to put "creeds and schools in abeyance" and "go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked."

But even this simple statement befuddles my students, who (a) don't know what "abeyance" means and can't be troubled to look it up, and (b) fear that there may be some secret hidden meaning behind the most forthright statement. He can't really be suggesting that we should close our books and go for a roll in the hay with a lover, can he? That must be code language for something abstract and ethereal, far beyond the understanding of the common reader.

Poor Walt: his contemporaries were shocked by his frankness, but today's college students find him old-fashioned, incomprehensible, obscure. "To elaborate is no avail," he says in Song of Myself, and I fear that he's correct. The "Trippers and askers" who surrounded him have been transformed into poetry-phobic students who remain attached to their electronic devices and are comfortable only with answers that arrive easily on tiny screens unsuited for rolling around in the woods. How can they hear Whitman's voice through the tinny sounds constantly flowing into their ears?

If poor old Walt is rolling in his grave, I hope he's got some company.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What happens when I try to do the homework for my own class

The bowl made from an ash burl sits on my desk serving up Post-It Notes as needed, the bowl yellowy-brown and rugged on the top, the notes screaming in fluorescent pink and orange; the bowl smoothly curved, the notes all right angles and sharp edges. The bowl began as a tree that became a log that my colleague took to a local woodworker to commission a set of bowls to give to friends at Christmas. I know who gave me the bowl and I think of her generosity every day; I know who made the bowl because his signature appears on the bottom. 

But who made the Post-It Notes? I see no signature at the bottom of the pack, no sign that the stack of colorful notes was touched by human hands. Robots? Machines? Whose hands made the robots? Whose mind designed the machines? Who grew and cut the trees, who transported them to the paper mill and transformed them to mush?

The bowl reveals signs of the tree and the hands that put the wood on the lathe and worked with meticulous care around the roughly burled edges, but the Post-It Notes tells me nothing of the tree, prefers instead to boss me around: buy birdseed; change the oil in the Camry; prep tomorrow's classes. The notes move from bowl to desk to trash can while the bowl sits immobile and usually unnoticed on my desk, reminding me of kindness, of careful work, of the long life and forgotten death of a tree.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A little mental slippage

One great advantage of the aging brain's tendency to lose track of essential information is that I'm constantly surprising myself. Today, for instance, I was introducing a writing assignment to a group of students and I was struck by its cleverness. I wrote that? Clever me!

I was less clever in constructing my syllabus for another class, which contradicts itself: two exams or three? It depends on which part of the syllabus you read.

One syllabus tells students to look for a sample paper on Moodle (but it isn't there!) while another instructs students to submit assignments to a drop-box on Moodle (that I never created!). I thought I was being very thorough and careful in setting up my courses, but apparently I was not careful enough.

And then I couldn't get the technology to work right in two of my classes this week. Second day of class and already everything's falling to pieces.

Thankfully, all of this evidence of mental slippage will ease right out of my awareness by the end of the week.    

Monday, January 13, 2014

Keeping up appearances (and disappearances)

Where are the men? Nearly 70 percent of our students are male, but only 29 percent of students in my classes this semester are male. Why do I have so few men in literature and writing classes? Is it just me or are our men severely English-phobic?

Who are these people who keep popping in early for the next class that meets in my classroom? "Hello!" I say, "We're having class! We have ten more minutes! Please go away!" If you were on your way to the first day of class and you saw a classroom full of students busily writing at their desks 20 minutes before your class was scheduled to start, wouldn't you double-check before barging on in? Or do these students assume that their class is the only one that matters--or, indeed, exists?

Should I celebrate or feel sorry for the student who's taking three of my classes this semester? She'll be reading or writing something for me every waking moment of her life. For the next 15 weeks, her soul is MINE.

Where did all my umbrellas go? Who can give me directions to the Land of Lost Umbrellas, and how do I persuade all my umbrellas to come back? Better make it quick--rain is on the way, and I don't want to show up for my next class sloshing all over the floor like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. (With my luck it'll be the wrong classroom anyway.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Prepping in panic mode

Classes start Monday---time to panic! But I've finished my syllabi and prepped my classes so I'm a little lacking in panic-worthy material. Think think think...

My clothes!!! Do I have anything decent to wear on Monday? Will my teaching clothes still fit despite the excesses of the holidays? Do I need to wash, iron, sew on buttons? Shall I go shopping for a new outfit despite the fact that it's bad luck to wear new clothes on the first day of class? Or is that just an old wives' tale? Do old wives' tales work for old wives as well as for young ones? How old do I have to be before I qualify as an old wife? Or does "old" in this context refer to length of marriage rather than age?

Speaking of old, what am I going to do with my hair? I need a haircut. Can I find someone to give me a trim without an appointment today? Those walk-in haircut places can be, how shall we say this tactfully, inconsistent. On the other hand, could a bad haircut possibly make my hair look any worse than it does right this minute? My hairstyle looks like what happens when you hand scissors and mousse to a three-year-old. I can't walk into class looking like this!!!

Good thing I won't be driving into class because my car looks like it's suffering from an advanced case of leprosy. Time to wash off the road salt! And my tote bag is marked with a map of my travels in tea stains. My shoes are scuffed! I've lost one of my favorite earrings! I can't see well enough to pluck my eyebrows even with my glasses on! Calgon, take me away!

Good thing my syllabi are done because it looks like I'll have my hands full this weekend just managing my panic.

Friday, January 10, 2014

When I'm the wrong Bev

Let's admit up front that bearing a relatively unusual name has its disadvantages. I'm often called Beth and Barb and even Bob, and I'll bet the average Bob never has to spell his name for people, which I have to do all the time--and still I get a cup of coffee labelled "Maeve."

But the advantage is that I generally don't have to share my name with half a dozen friends and colleagues. Stand up at a faculty meeting and call for Dave and enough guys will respond to man a basketball team, but call for Bev and you'll get me. I am the only Bev among the faculty--but I'm not the only Bev on campus, and in the age of Autocomplete, that's a problem.

The other Bev is a highly competent administrative assistant who does work for a bunch of really important people, all of them very intelligent but also very busy--so busy, in fact, that when they compose e-mail, they sometimes type "Bev" into the "to" slot and instantly accept whatever Autocomplete offers, even if it's the wrong Bev.

Which is why I get mail asking me to reserve rooms for events, schedule meetings, unlock doors, order textbooks, and respond to questions way outside my area of expertise. At least once a week I have to reply to an e-mail pointing out that it's been sent to the wrong Bev and then accept apologies from the sender.

Which is no big deal, really. It's not as if it happens every day, and getting these e-mails makes me thankful that I'm not responsible for the variety of things the other Bev takes charge of. (Did I mention that she's highly competent? I stand in awe of her competence.) But I sort of feel sorry for the guy out there waiting for someone to come and unlock his door while I'm away from my computer and can't even let him know that he's written to the wrong Bev, and when I have to gently remind a high-level administrator that I'm the wrong Bev to be privy to certain sensitive information, I feel a little guilty.

But why should I feel guilty? I can't help being the Wrong Bev! I was born this way! 

What would happen if I just hoarded all those e-mails and never informed the senders that they'd reached the wrong Bev? Given the other Bev's position in the heart of the administrative vortex, the whole campus would fall slowly to pieces. Doors would remain locked. Meetings would fizzle, unscheduled. Textbooks would languish unordered in warehouses. Questions would linger unanswered.

Well, I can't sit idly by and ignore the impending Bevapocalypse. And so I reply: "You've got the wrong Bev. Sorry!" And then thank my lucky stars that I'm not the right Bev.

But wait a minute--if I start unlocking doors and reserving rooms, do you think the other Bev will do my grading?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A spoonful of kindness makes the snarkiness go down

I love College Misery, the dysfunctional group blog that allows--yea, encourages whining and griping about every little thing that's wrong with academe, but today I'm enjoying its opposite: Academic Kindness, which offers contributors an opportunity to provide a "record of unsolicited kindness, unexpected goodwill, and excessive generosity in academia."

Excessive generosity? In ACADEMIA? What are they smoking?

But wait: I've seen plenty of generosity in academia, and I've been on the receiving end of generosity that at the time may have seemed ordinary but that others might view as excessive--and not just when I was in the throes of cancer treatment. Just this week I received a surprisingly laudatory note from a colleague, edited photos I took with a lens that was a gift from a class of students, and was offered an unexpected opportunity to contribute an essay to a collection. If there are other motivations besides kindness lurking behind these boons, I don't want to know about it.

I won't give up College Misery because sometimes I need that little dose of snark, but today I'm grateful to be reminded of the unexpected acts of kindness that make my job possible. If I read both blogs, will they cancel each other out or will they react like matter and antimatter? There's only one way to find out.     

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Please may I have a deadline extension?

Three syllabi done but the fourth is a mess, texts aren't in the bookstore, too much scrolling and clicking and I still can't find the capstone photos for the department bulletin board, paperwork piling up and filing system breaking down--Mayday! Mayday! She's on the precipice!

Despite all the work I did before break and during break and all morning long, the work I need to do before classes start seems insurmountable, especially with an all-day meeting tomorrow. Maybe I could get an Incomplete or file for an extension--start classes in, say, February, and while I'm at it, why not move my classes to a less frigid climate? Do you think the provost would let me start my classes Feb. 4 in Auckland--just this once?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A long drive on a cold day

Remember those all-night road trips we made at the end of college breaks, with five or six exhausted young people taking turns driving some beat-up old rattletrap down the interstate to make it back from break just in time for an 8 a.m. class? The sweaty, squirmy bodies all squashed together in a car that kept threatening to collapse in some godforsaken southern backwoods straight out of Deliverance, the "meals" composed of 7-11 Slurpees and a shoebox full of bran muffins someone's mother packed for the trip, the incessant switching between radio stations obsessed with preaching us into the kingdom or wailing us into despair. Why don't we take trips like that anymore?

Well, for one thing, we're adults with (generally) reliable cars and a little more disposable income than we had as college students, and we have needs college students could never imagine. Sleep, for instance, on a nice firm mattress in a quiet room with wireless internet access and a warm breakfast in the morning, with all the major food groups available, especially plenty of fiber. We get stiff and sore when we sit too long and our eyes get tired, so we like to break a long road trip up into manageable chunks. Yes: we have become boring middle-aged people who don't dare pull 15-hour marathon driving days.

Except when we do.

Now we hadn't planned to drive 15 hours yesterday. (And let me just point out that 15 hours is our personal record for the trip from my parents' house in central Florida to our home in southern Ohio, a record made possible only by the fact that we had the highways to ourselves because anyone with half a brain cell knew better than to venture out into the cold. But I digress.) We had planned to drive nine or ten hours and then spend the night in a motel along the interstate before attempting that last burst of treacherous driving over the mountains, but then we woke up before 4 a.m. in a house to hot to allow easy sleep and we threw on some clothes and got on the road.

We had the road pretty much to ourselves for, literally, hours, and we hit the major cities at odd times instead of the usual rush hours. But the time we hit North Carolina, we realized that we had enough daylight to continue driving all the way home, but did we have enough stamina?

Apparently we did since here we are, but those last three hours were a challenge. The snow was sparse but blowing, cutting visibility and sometimes creating slick spots, but the wind was outrageous, gusting out of nowhere and pushing us across the lane lines. In the West Virginia mountains we saw few cars but many trucks, their tires spraying road salt and slush into our windshield. I white-knuckled it for a while and then we stopped for a burger and I found that my legs were shaking so much I could hardly walk. Time to switch drivers! My husband drove the rest of the way home.

Home! Such a wonderful word. We had a great trip--I won't soon forget seeing my brother's new house, sighting those roseate spoonbills, or gobbling a luscious fish taco with an old friend--but the ultimate goal of any vacation is right back home. The temperature here has been stuck close to zero since we got here and the wind is blustery and bold, but I'm content to stay inside and be still. Enough driving! I have to get back to campus tomorrow, but for today, it's All Systems Stop.

Friday, January 03, 2014

From flat to flight


First of all, the tire wasn't flat--yet. The tread was separating and the belt had split, so we headed off to the tire store last night to get two new tires installed lickety-split, and then while the car was up on the lift, my brother-in-law the mechanic took a good look at the brakes and took us straight to AutoZone to buy new brake pads, which he graciously installed first thing this morning.

Which is why we didn't get to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge until nearly noon, and then we couldn't spend much time there because we had other commitments, so we had to content ourselves with viewing wildlife from a distance instead of hiking out to get closer. Not to mention that it was cold. (Cold for Florida, meaning temperatures in the 40s and blustery winds sharp enough to persuade my Clevelandman to put on a hat.) 

But the birds! Bald eagles, ospreys, anhingas, herons--including the tricolored heron, which I've never seen before in the wild. Pintailed ducks, white pelicans, snowy egrets, and a solitary alligator clearly not enjoying the weather. And what is that in the distance? That swirling cloud of white and pink can only be a flock of roseate spoonbills mingling amongst the pelicans and egrets.

We enjoyed the sights and flights but then had to move on, waving goodbye to birds, reptiles, and a friendly shark as we moved inland on the next stage of our trip. I can't take any spoonbills with me and the photos are truly awful, but I'll hold on to that memory of swirling flights of pink for long miles ahead.  

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Pelicans in the mists

We stepped outside to face a blizzard of whirling white this morning--not snow and ice but mist and surf. Early-morning fog and cloud cover created a monochromatic beach scene in shades of gray and white, with squadrons of pelicans materializing from the north and swishing just above the waves before disappearing due south.

First we walked on dry sand and then, lured by low waves gently rolling in, we took off our sandals and stepped gingerly into the cold Atlantic. Before long we'd stripped off our fleece pullovers and rolled up our pants and walked far south along the shingle.

We watched colors return slowly to the world as the sun burned off all the fog. I looked back over the distance we'd walked and couldn't see our starting place or our pile of pullovers and sandals. The tide was rising, pushing us ever inland. 

"How far up the shore did you stack those sandals and things?" I asked. 

"Far enough," he said. "I hope."

But hope was not enough; soon he was jogging through the surf back to our starting point. I took the easy way back, wading through the shallow water and watching sandpipers chase the bubbly white retreating waves. Don't look back, little bird! It's gaining on you!     

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Of coots and cormorants

Cormorants. Don't they look like a gaggle of administrators?

Mysterious heron.
This morning's adventure provided proof that you don't have to go to Florida to be surrounded by old coots. We saw hundreds--possibly thousands--of coots at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, along with a variety of ducks and geese, a pair of moorhens, dozens of cormorants, a few anhingas, a whole flock of white egrets, and what else?

Glossy ibis.
Yellow-rumped warblers (a few). Red-winged blackbirds (a horde). An eagle, probably golden although the light was bad so it was hard to tell for sure. A pair of hawks. An ibis (glossy, I think). A flying heron that I haven't been able to identify--we saw it early while the sky was still dark so the colors are not clear, but it could be a black-crowned night heron. Or not.

Ruddy duck, I think.
No wood storks, which was kind of disappointing; in February I saw at least a dozen wood storks perching on a big dead tree at the south end of the refuge, a sight that took my breath away. We also didn't see much sun, thanks to an intermittent drizzle during our morning hike followed by an outright downpour once we got on the interstate. Rain followed us down the coast to Cocoa, but the coots stayed behind. (Florida has long since reached its coot quota--but that won't keep us away!)

The beautiful little blue heron.