Seagulls

They say the Wright brothers chose seagulls to use as a model for their efforts at flying because they are so aerodynamically perfect. They are curious birds. They eat virtually anything, they bicker and compete for any fish head or remains they find. But they are beautiful to watch in flight.

It’s rare that you find an injured seagull they are so adept at evasion and finessing danger. So when rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I were walking the beach one day last week I was sad when I saw what looked to be a dead seagull washed up at the high tide mark. Always curious, the dogs strained to inspect it and as they came closer it raised its head. Not dead at all but lying on its side in a very non-seagull posture. I held the dogs back so they wouldn’t scare it (or get bit which nosey Lily did get bit because she is so nosey) and saw a horrible fishing lure, one of those 3 inch long fish looking ones with the lethal 3-barbed hooks at either end. And somehow this seagull had got it stuck in itself at both barbed ends.

The dogs seemed to understand they needed to give this bird some space so I gingerly picked it up amazed at how light it was. It appeared to understand I meant it no harm because it didn’t try to bite me or struggle, not that it could, hog-tied by this terrible thing.

As I examined it I saw there was no way I could dislodge these hooks. On one side a barb went clean through the front edge of his wing and the other side the hook had gone in behind a leg where it had bled a little. But this bird, despite being dragged around by the tide and waves and deposited here was still very much alive.

I remembered passing a surf fisherman as we walked out so I turned back to see if he had some pliers. He was not there, but a truck was driving up the beach and I knew this would be either a fisherman or a police officer patrolling the beach. It was the police and I explained the injuries of this gull needed pliers and I couldn’t get this off him myself.

A side note here- all birds on this planet are federally protected. It is illegal to touch even a discarded feather. So having once volunteered at a raptor center for injured eagles, hawks, owls and other birds I knew I should not have even touched this bird but could not have left him there. So the officer radioed for a park ranger and waited with me.

When the ranger arrived the officer had a few words with him, maybe to assure him that unkempt and wild as I might have looked that early I seemed harmless, or that it was a felony to do this but go ahead and help this bird anyway, who knows. The officer drove off and the ranger came and looked at the gull. He shook his head and blew a low whistle then went to his truck for a pliers. He cut away the short loop of fishing line that had not become entangled and I gently held the bird’s head so it would not bite him as he worked the pliers, first to get the barb out of the wing, then from behind its leg. We commiserated as to how painful this all must be and after the bird was free the ranger instructed me to take it down by the water. The tide had just turned going out so the bird could rest until he overcame his shock and pain to fly away. I do not live on the beach but in town and the ranger assured me he would come back and check on him.

As Lily, Lulu and I walked back to the car we looked back once or twice to see him. He was still calmly sitting where I’d placed him waiting for the wild spirit to return.

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Scattered

My mind has been completely unfocused lately. So this post likely will be some kind of hodgepodge, miscellany, an “olla podrida”. That last descriptor was the title of the yearbook at the prep school where my brother graduated. It has basically 2 definitions: first, some sort of Spanish stew with lots of chick peas and the second is hodgepodge. Which is anything but what those boys (now a coed school) were. They were for the most part very intelligent, well-grounded, highly socialized gentlemen who graduated mostly knowing exactly what rockets they would fly as they soared to change the world.

My life these days is definitely not that. If it ever was.

Maybe it’s the election, or my recent disappointing dentist’s appointment, my recent worst-haircut-ever, or that it’s fall –a season I look forward to but this year thanks to hurricane preoccupation it came before I could prepare for it, savor its coming — or maybe something in my brain that simply has not surfaced yet.

So I take rescue dogs Lily and Lulu every day for their walks, either to the beach or the nature preserve. The recent visit to the beach I waded out farther than Lulu’s calculated retractable leash could reach and thanks to a rogue incoming wave she got a good dunking. It wasn’t until I felt vigorous yanking at the other end that I turned to see her attempting to leap out of her harness and fly over the offending wave. I scrambled back over the water to gently pick her up and carry her to drier sand. I think for her the worst of it was the rinsing of the hose before we got back in the car to go home. She has gotten a little more used to gentle toweling so that went better than usual.

When you adopt a new rescue dog there is really no way of knowing what they have lived through. Sometimes the rescuer can tell you something about their lives, but that is only what they have been told unless they actually saw what they lived with. So each day Lulu shows me something she does not like.

After the storm we were picking up the (very minor) debris in the yard and she shied away to a great distance when I picked up a long stick. Mental note: someone may have threatened her. At least I hope that’s all it was.

Husky-mix rescue Lily loves to be toweled after a bath or getting caught in the rain. It’s like a huge rub-down. Lulu runs frantically evading the whole process until, once she sees it is a gentle patting dry she calms down. Each time it is a little easier to catch her, but still.

She won’t eat her food if Lily is standing behind her, or if there is a storm, or if I in any way indicate that I am in a hurry.  Maybe her rescue, that had many dogs besides Lulu, let each fend for themselves and being kind of small and very polite Lulu got whatever was left. If that.

She is beginning to love to greet people though, something she did not take any interest in at the first but I have noticed on our walks she will go out of her way to see whether a fellow walker will reach down to pet her or say hello.

Some things take time. Like pulling thoughts back into focus.

Maybe by next week the other brain-shoe will drop.

Ocean gifts

So after a storm is a great opportunity for shell seekers. You find beautiful, unusual shells that the ocean keeps locked away in her murky depths. Churned up by chaotic turbulent winds and raucous storms the waves hurtle toward the shore, gently placing their offerings with each tide.

Lily and Lulu and I meandered up the beach the other morning enjoying the gentle breeze and the still-warm water lapping over my feet. Just ahead I spotted three large forms on the dawn-brightening sand and savored what they might be as I walked toward them. Like a shot, a woman in tight black leggings, running shoes, sweatshirt and her blond ponytail pulled neatly through the band behind her cap raced by to my right and quickly scooped up what I had mentally claimed as mine, now hers.

“Jackpot!” she shouted, gleefully.

Somehow this completely diminished the beauty of these shells. I also noticed another, much larger one not 20 feet ahead and sadly watched as the woman ran to grab that one, too.

It wasn’t so much that I missed out on some lovely shells, the ocean isn’t likely to run out anytime soon. What saddened me was the apparent department store final clearance attitude of my fellow beach walker as she vacuumed the beach of its bounty. Shells and all things from the sea are mysterious. They may be explained by scientists– how they come to be, the composite structure of each different shell, but look at the beauty of even the most common shell. There are ridges, colorings, imperfections, a place where a hinge might once have existed, a housing for an animal whose life secrets number greatly against what people claim to know absolutely about it.

So no, I was not disappointed that I missed out on an addition to my growing collection

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I was saddened by how ordinary she made them seem. Just another thing to have, rather than a beautiful gift to be cherished. Of course there are other gifts, a brilliant sunrisePicture1015160717_1.jpg

or the little brittle star tossed casually on top of a pile of shells (not my photo)

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But I suppose there is nothing quite so comforting as a pile of toys during a terrible storm

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Lulu probably had the right idea.

In search of The Gray Man

I’ve not been a believer in ghosts, poltergeists, tommy knockers, imps, apparitions, phantasmas, or any other such phantom phenomena since I was very young. But with an impending hurricane I can’t help but remember one that was very nearly believable.

My family and I every summer spent a week at Pawley’s Island, SC at the same inn from the time I was about two until I went off to college. In the early years when people were careful about such things at the end of each week we had fireworks, a huge bonfire on the beach, and ghost stories. The last and favorite story was always the tale of the Gray Man.

As happens with famous and favored stories this one had many versions. The most often-told one was that of a young man returning to his family’s summer home at Pawley’s from travel abroad in the 19th century. His fiancee lived on a small island south, Dubordieu and he was riding there, very fast, to reunite with her. As he crossed the small inlet between the islands he was thrown from his horse and disappeared rapidly into quicksand. His fiancee was beside herself and, not long after his death a terrible hurricane –the Great Storm of 1822– was approaching the tiny island. She was out walking the beaches mourning her loss when at a distance she spotted a slim, gray figure of a man just ahead. As she neared him he looked more like her lost beloved until, nearly upon him she knew it was he. She reached for him.

He disappeared.

Rushing home, the storm now nearly upon them, she and her family left the island to the safety of the mainland. After the storm passed they returned to so much devastation and wreckage she was certain there would be nothing left of her family’s beloved home. To their amazed surprise the house was there, completely intact. Not a shingle missing.

The apparition is said to still be spotted by some, even today. The stories are that, if there is a storm and you are fortunate enough to see him, when you return to your home which you left in such a rush to save life and limb, even the clothes will still be on the line, just as you left them.

So with hurricane Matthew bearing upon us here on the North Carolina coast my rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I ventured forth to the beach a couple of mornings this week to see whether or not we might catch a glimpse of the Grey Man. There was seafog, blowing sand, but no ghost.

Not that we could see, anyway.

As I write this the skies are a slate grey, intermittent showers. It is humid and the air is hardly moving at all. This must be the calm before the storm. This hurricane is now still a very dangerous threat to Georgia and South Carolina but I do not believe it will be as strong when it finally reaches Cape Fear.

See you on the other side.

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The Return of the Gray ManBolick, Julian Stevenson. (c) 1961. Pgs. 106-112. “The Gray Man of 1893”

Weather

It’s always fascinated me, weather. I love watching a storm, darkening clouds, oddly colored sky, brilliant flashes and rumbles far away. For a while I used to think I could predict weather from clouds. If I saw mare’s tails (cirrus clouds) I knew it would rain within 2-3 days and it usually did. “Ring around the moon, rain before noon” sometimes worked, not always. Killing a spider is believed to bring rain, and most everyone knows the biblical “red sky at night, sailor’s delight… red sky at morning, sailor take warning” (Matthew 16:2-4).

But hurricanes? Growing up in the south I’ve encountered them but usually on the tail end at a beach vacation. Plenty of rain, gusty wind and stinging sand. Then Hurricane Hugo in September 1989,  a category 5 when it hit Charleston, SC then a 2 or 3 when it hit where my son and I lived, Charlotte, NC. Knocked a pine tree on the roof of my car. My son came and woke me (yes, I slept through it up till then) telling me he was blind. I could not understand this until I heard the screaming wind outside and things cracking (said pine tree). The only light you could see was the occasional flash of lightning silhouetting trees and buildings. I walked outside (yes, half asleep without thinking) to listen to the car radio since clearly there was going to be no television (no idea at that time it would not be for two and a half weeks) to try and get some weather. Just music, but I did notice how I had suddenly become much taller until I realized it was actually my car roof, stove in by the pine tree. I went back to the house, my son was crying his eyes out at the door. Evidently it frightened him that I would walk out into such a maelstrom. At least by now he realized he’d not lost his eyesight.

Then I moved to north Florida in 2003. All summer long people talked about how the hurricanes, if they happened, weren’t bad until August or September. We had none of any consequence that year but 2004? I can recall a few, one that kept dropping tornadoes a few blocks from the library where I worked, and another that sat over the entire state of Florida for what seemed like weeks, soaking us with feet of water.

The next year, 2005 I moved to Miami. There were more storms, we seemed to be constantly throwing those hurricane shutters up and taking them down, and of course Katrina and Rita. The worst for me was not so much the coming storm but, though we were under mandatory evacuation being east of I-95 and US 1 I would not leave because I knew what those evacuations are like, I’d rather just stay in my home than be stuck on the highway at the worst of the storm, and shelters did not permit pets at all at that time. No way was I going to leave and not keep my doggies safe. We lost electricity from Rita for about 6 days. Not bad, but in south Florida the humidity is relentless and you really do miss air conditioning when you don’t have any.

So I moved again to a coastal town in North Carolina. This time not for work but retirement. Last year we had a couple of tropical storms, no hurricanes that bothered us. So far this year looked to be about the same.

Until now.

So hurricane Matthew briefly a category 5 (the worst measured storm), now a 4, meandering west over the Caribbean, is a very ambitious storm about to make a sharp right north to mow down Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas all by Tuesday. The track according to the national hurricane center so far shows it on a bee-line course for the little part of coastal NC where I live.

This does not necessarily have to be where it goes. A little high-pressure system could spin it right back out over the Atlantic, where its cousins Karl and Lisa just flew off to. But right now we are sitting under much more rain and humidity, a low pressure that has socked itself in for several days. As if TS Julia and her rains for 3 weeks weren’t enough for us. Still, anything can happen with weather. As they say, don’t like the weather here? Wait a minute.

Let’s hope.