It looked just like a fallen pine cone or a leaf, or a piece of bark off a tree.

I slowed my bicycle because often things are never as they seem.

A tiny puff of grey feathers turned its carrot billed head just as I passed. So I stopped. It was a dangerous place for a tiny fledgeling. The edge of a busy asphalt pathway around a sparkling blue pond. It was early yet, but curiosity would get the best of some would-be fishers of the under-12 variety on this catch-and-release lake.

So I parked my bike and walked slowly back to where the little birdlet still sat, waiting for parental assistance. As I got closer two very disturbed cardinal parents swooped beside me. Warning shot across my bow, no doubt. I assured them in human words I meant no harm but that did not convince them. Holding both hands, palms out toward the little bird I moved slowly closer to encourage it to go back into the safer undergrowth, praying for no snakes. It lifted like a butterfly and fluttered forward an inch or two.

Both parents now watching a safe distance, still chirruping to assure their tiny one they were close enough.

I moved again toward the feather pile, again it responded, this time hanging a wing over a blade of grass, quickly adjusting so it was on more solid footing. The parents moved in closer, I walked back to my bicycle to continue my ride.

Cardinals mate for life and are devoted to their offspring. If something fatal happens to one or both parents a literal village of the bright red birds moves in to help raise the orphans. They are territorial but only in habitat, not combatively.

Another blogger I followed used to say that if your parents have passed on and you see a cardinal near you it is a parent watching over you.

Lovely to think so.

When my ex-husband and I separated I lived with my parents for a few weeks. Seemed to make sense since I’d gone back to work at my dad’s company, but one evening before dinner Mother, Dad and I were sitting in the den. Still reeling from trying to accept that my happily-ever-after had turned into an extra-marital nightmare I heard my dad casually say to Mom, “Don’t eagles kick their young out of the nest?”

So human fledging isn’t always as genteel as cardinal fledging I guess. At any rate Mother and I pored over the classified ads for a condo, which we found, to my lawyer’s disapproval. Had to be. My parents were ready for their chick to leave the nest. Again.

I continued working for my dad for a few years, and my son and I lived in the condo Mom and I found for 15 years after. I suppose Dad felt somewhat chagrined because all those years later he generously helped me purchase the first house I ever owned and lived in on my own. Well, with my son of course but he was soon bound for college and life on his own.

So eaglets, even human ones bounced out of the nest do survive. And thrive.

Bees, bicycles and banalities

Sometimes the mundane takes precedence in life. Sometimes we are so sure seeking mountaintop experiences is the end-all and be-all we are struck dumb when we tumble back down to earth.

I am, anyway.

Not that I was on a spectacularly high mountain but at my age anything much above sea level is exciting.

Like finding fewer dust bunnies –a clear indicator that husky-mix rescue dog Lily isn’t shedding as much. Or mowing the lawn and not having to remow over those strips of lawn I missed when the sweat dripped into my eyes. Or actually getting the tomatoes before the phantom biter takes a chunk out of them overnight. Things like that.

So when the microwave repairman (who is actually a refrigerator repairman) tells me what’s wrong with the microwave, yes he can fix it but no, he doesn’t have the parts and it’s another week before it’s fixed, or the car behind me as I am riding my bicycle gets closer and finally runs me into a mailbox that breaks and I now have to pay for, or the plumber who tells me what is making the toilet run constantly and yes it can be fixed but (again) no he doesn’t have the part, things begin to frustrate me.

It could be worse. It could be the day I cut the grass and ran over the yellow-jacket nest by the driveway. I knew there was one only it was under the crape myrtle last year. Who would guess they would move to newer accommodations? So 2 cans of wasp spray, one at point-blank range took those out but I had no idea how those stings would itch!

I ordered my own parts for the toilet and replaced the problem part only to find it still leaking the next day. So I took it apart and reassembled it again. It isn’t leaking now. Let’s hope this one fixed it.

And my neighbor late on a Friday afternoon when nothing can be done lets me know that the dead limb on my pine tree that hangs over a corner of his yard and has done for many years finally bothers him and it’s time to do something about it. So I left a message with a tree service hoping to get on their schedule sometime in the not-so-distant future to take care of this.

I think now would be a good time for some chocolate.


Holding back

There’s a lot to be said for self-control, tact, mincing words, thinking before you speak. The tongue, the Bible tells us, has the power to encourage or destroy. Words have power. Restraint is a sign of a wise person.

I have never had much restraint.

These days I tell others since I hit middle age my filters have worn out. I speak my mind. I am getting better but it’s taking a lot of work. Somehow it seems there is so much that needs to be said and, face it. None of us knows how much time we’ve got.

My son and I used to use movie lines to describe feelings or circumstances in any situation. Something was confusing, we quoted from “Fletch!” (1985 based on Gregory McDonald’s novel), Chevy Chase as Fletch: “Well, there we’re in sort of a grey area.”

His editor: “Ok, how grey?”

Fletch: “Charcoal.”

Or from “The Princess Bride” (1987 William Goldman screenplay), Westley says to Buttercup in the fireswamp: “Well, I wouldn’t want to build a summer home here but the trees are quite lovely.”

Somehow the combination of movie lines from films that made us laugh and not having to use our own words would lighten any situation.

Oliver Platt to Meryl Streep in Carrie Fisher’s “Postcards from the Edge” (1990, novel of the same name): “You’re holding something back…”

Well, sometimes it’s called for. Other times, no. We can’t pull any punches though. We have to air things out. Otherwise the truth stays buried and everybody continues along in a fantasy parallel universe where no one is accountable, nothing matters except what we decide matters, even if it’s not truth. Since we’ve created some sort of reality to accommodate how we want things to be then we make it up as we go along. Like Jim Carrey’s “The Truman Show” (which I never saw… too depressing). Only by the time we run out of imaginary reality discourses and come out of our self-made tunnel we find reality has continued and we may be so out of touch we never catch up. Or get it, or catch on.

So it helps to stay close to truth. It’s essential, actually, for our own sanity.

The hardest part is holding to truth when someone close to you is living a fantasy, even a partial one. For all intents and purposes it looks like reality but it’s so far skewed from your reality that you either have to drop everything you know is truth and real to stay with them, or let it all go, keeping a distant watch to see where things go, or if the fantasy comes to an end. When paradise becomes rotten it’s hard to make it paradise again.

Especially when it’s all in your mind.

So, either have plans B, C, D, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, or be prepared to bite the bullet when it’s over and move on.

If this makes no sense to anybody, it’s ok. Lily and Lulu, my rescue dogs have been following along with me. It’s hard sometimes, to keep up without a score card.

Esse quam videri

So there’s this nature preserve not far from where I live. It was established as a land trust by a gentleman for his daughter who loved nature and the out of doors. There are roughly 2 miles of trails, friendly dogs are allowed to walk off-leash. My 2 rescue dogs Lily and Lulu love it there. In winter we go sometimes twice a day but these summer dog days with temperatures pushing 110 we only go in the morning, very early. We always meet very interesting persons and their dogs when we walk, this week a bicycler who recently moved to the area from Chesapeake, Virginia. We spoke of native southerners vs. northern transplants and shared amusing stories of how difficult it is to change the south to conform to northern ways. Then we wished each other a good day and moved on.

The title of this translates “to be rather than to seem”. It is North Carolina’s state motto, my home. For years growing up in the south with a New Yorker Mother and Colorado cowboy Father my identity was an interesting challenge. I knew who I was, what I liked, but trying to please everyone else? That’s a problem.

Why is it so hard to break conformity? Maybe some people have no problem with it. Maybe they have a very clear focus on what is expected of them and who they are. Maybe because of their virtue and goodness they don’t need to worry about rules. Or maybe they are those strong personalities who simply draw people into their circles and find safety in numbers, even forming new and improved rules, testing the waters until a consensus is formed.

But the consensus needs to be for the greater good. The consensus needs to be something everyone else can aspire to. Like people from other places. They may seem harsh, outspoken, rude, brash, arrogant, whatever. But it’s not fair to determine necessarily a person is what they seem to be. They might just be having a horrifically bad day. Or they make a lousy first impression. Granted, with many people wysiwyg applies (what you see… etc.)

My dad could call a person usually the first time he met them. And for the most part his take could have knocked me down with a feather. Where he saw humility and grace I saw impatience and pushy. But something in that person would give him or herself away to Dad. And he was almost never wrong. The only times he ever did get someone wrong was when he let someone else’s opinion influence him. Usually my mother. She was not often wrong but when she was her error was generally based not on her heart or her gut but a current issue or situation. She seldom allowed this to play with her instincts but once or twice she let it happen and she was truly way off. But she would always admit her error, she never kept up any pretense of righteousness.

So whenever I share an impression or thought with someone I always make it a gentle one. It’s hard not to love others when you know your own fallibility.


An Epic Journey

Journeys can take place in many ways. Summit of a mountain, sailing around the world, a quest for answers, an internal journey of discovery.

Or a cross-country car trip as an adolescent, with a pre-pubescent annoying brother and two parents not having their expectations met of their adolescent daughter and her younger brother.

My dad had warned (read threatened) he might move his happy little family from the comforts of our southern home to the wilds of New York someday. He said it so often I think we stopped believing him. I should have known the halcyonic summer our family went to Jamaica to visit my mother’s aging aunt was a bribe.

The following January we played car tag on interstates, turnpikes and rural roads to New Jersey. A rude awakening.

So the following summer my parents planned this huge car trip, with a stop in Ohio to look at the portrait of my great-great grandfather who was former chief justice of the Ohio supreme court, my mothers’ parents’ graves with our final destination Colorado Springs to see the boyhood city of my father.

Roughly 1,748.8 miles each way, give or take.

The worst of it was not the chipped beef sandwiches, not even when Mom mistakenly bought  Miracle Whip and refused to take it back swearing it was better for us. She had decided we would save both time and money eating our lunches in the car.

I do not recall whether we had breakfasts at the places we stayed on the way or a fast food place. I was not a healthy breakfast eater in those days. But what really made the trip nearly unbearable was my brother, all of 13 years old and nearly 6 feet tall, lounging across the back seat with his size 11 feet stuck out the window. My window. So I had his smelly feet under my nose for that many miles and nobody cared.

The day we pulled into our hotel (Best Westerns were Dad’s resting place of choice)  in Ohio he overshot the parking lot. Instead of turning around like most people he put the car in reverse and drove backwards through 2 parking lots and across a road to get to the proper motel lot. This rendered my mother speechless, rather she burbled “bl-bl-bl” and “F-f-f-f-” with an irrepressible laugh coming up which no one in the car could interpret, including her.

After Ohio we headed west again, one scheduled stop in Nebraska, destination unknown. Remember, too this is the 70s. We do not have gps or smart phones or wifi of any kind. We had AAA Triptiks and tour books of the states we were driving through, and maps of the states and just for good measure Mom included this huge RoadAtlas of the entire United States. In case we took a left in Illinois or something.

So we’re getting tired and cranky and hungry and Dad asks Mom to start looking for something where we can stop to eat and sleep. I have given up trying to move or even break my brother’s legs. Mom mentions this little town up ahead called Cozad and Dad starts looking for signs.


I do not believe there was anything else in this place aside from this little roadside motel. Maybe a gas station. I don’t even remember what it was. There was the skeleton of a snake outside the door to our room, and my brother, excited about the swimming pool watched in awe as some teenage girls, rather large, nearly emptied the contents of the pool when they jumped in.

So we went into the little motel dining room and sat at a table, happy that our bellies would be filled and then we could sleep. We ordered, I can’t remember what anyone else had because when my mother’s food was served, a bowl of chili, she lifted her spoon and as she dipped in saw this anticipated thick, tasty bowl was as thin as water. She dropped her spoon and, as usual Dad got the brunt: “Jack!” she cried.  She did not eat a bite.

We moved on from this encounter and made it to Colorado, which of course was beautiful: pristine lakes, stunning snow-capped mountains and fresh, cool air. We saw where Dad was born in Colorado Springs, then drove to a town near Cripple Creek to look at some property he had nearby. We did stay overnight and had a wonderful dinner and floor show at an old hotel, the Imperial, complete with mugging actors and melodrama and a tinny piano. From there we drove to Aspen. Dad had some chartered land in those incredibly treacherous mountains nestled amongst hairpin curves. I learned here my fearless Mother was terrified of heights. When the sheer side of the mountain was on her side of the car she could not bear to look out her window.

Armed with walkie-talkies, binoculars, cameras and a geologic surveyor’s map Dad and my brother Jon headed up the mountain in search of a closed silver mine, leaving Mom and me deep in the wildflower-dotted valley which was rather marshy from the recent snow-melt. So we’re slogging along, not really sure why or where we’re going. Mom had recovered just months before from cancer surgery. We plodded on in silence for a bit when suddenly Mom stopped. I did too and looked over at her, her chin jutting out, stern gaze in the direction of where we’d last seen Dad and Jon disappear and declared, “People have gotten divorced over less than this!” I half-heartedly laughed, knowing their marriage was rock-solid, or at least Mother was and we meandered around this valley for about an hour. Finally Mom decided it was time for Dad and Jon to reappear but they did not so we tried to reach them on the walkie-talkie. Nothing.

Before panic set in we found the emergency channel and contacted whomever (the sheriff? park rangers?) was at the other end explaining the situation. A few minutes later we decided to start back to the car and wait. Just as we heard the rescue helicopter there appeared Dad and Jon cresting the mountain.

What a relief.

The place we stayed in Aspen offered me a job for the following summer, and my brother planned to rally some friends to camp on that mountain and try to open the silver mine, but that’s another story…..