Detour

Our current road trip will end tomorrow as Tom and I head back to Charlottesville. Spring awaits with its cleaning, taxes, and, best of all, the garden.

daffodils

daffodils

What a strange (but not too long) a trip it’s been: squealing differential in Florida, airborne tent in Texas, hankering to be one with the earth everywhere, while still craving that internet political fix.

Today, I am taking a detour to New Orleans. Tom didn’t quite take me to the Mardi Gras (it’s on February 28 this year), but close enough for a woman who doesn’t smoke, mostly doesn’t drink, and who surely can’t dance (except maybe to Motown).

almost Mardi Gras

almost Mardi Gras

I love New Orleans. Maybe it started with my mom’s New Orleans pralines.  Or, maybe it was Paul Simon’s, “Take Me to the Mardi Gras“:

Come on, take me to the Mardi Gras
Where the people sing and play
Where the dancing is elite
And there’s music in the street
Both night and day

Hurry, take me to the Mardi Gras
In the city of my dreams
You can legalize your lows
You can wear your summer clothes
In the New Orleans

And I will lay my burden down
Rest my head upon that shore
And when I wear that starry crown
I won’t be wanting anymore

Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras
Let the music wash your soul
You can mingle in the street
You can jingle to the beat
Of Jelly Roll

© 1973 Words and Music by Paul Simon

I loved the food. People were singing and playing. There was music in the street.

Cafe Du Monde

Cafe Du Monde

shrimp po boy, Cafe Fleur De Lis, French Quarter

shrimp po boy, Cafe Fleur De Lis, French Quarter

music, Jackson Square

music, Jackson Square

music in the street

music in the street

I let the music wash my soul and I mingled in the street. I worked on laying some of my burden down.

I remembered what I thought the first time I went–alone–to New Orleans about 14 years ago. As I wandered through the French Quarter, I thought: I know who I am throwing in my lot with. I am with the people who sing, dance, eat real food, and maybe smoke and drink and whatever, but just trying to get by with a little grace, style, and humor. I do not stand with those who think there is only one way and who denigrate those who choose a different path. That sounds like fascism to me.  I can’t explain myself well on this topic, but, lucky for me, Robin and Linda Williams have some words that work for me in Going, Going Gone:

When I pass a church house door I breathe a prayer one time more
I don’t know that I belong, but I still sing love’s
sweet old songs
If I’m not among the blessed, then I’ll be like all the rest
Getting by day to day moving down the lost highway
Going, Going, Going Gone
                                   by Robin and Linda Williams, Jerome Clark 2008
live oak (Quercus virginia)

live oak (Quercus virginia)

Facts and Photos

A seldom recalled fact (except by me) is that for three years in mid-1960s, I wrote the column “Milford High School News” for The Milford Times in Milford, Michigan. Through my teen years, I also wrote articles for other junior and senior high school publications. I mention this here because the title of this post reminds me of high school verbiage: you know, “Roses and Cabbages” or something.  If I remember my columns accurately, I used plenty of passive voice, such as, ” the French Club had their spring dinner and a good time was had by all.”  I want now to write about the  hikes Tom and I have taken, the clear skies north of Sierra Vista, the kangaroo rat that jumped into our camper shell on a dark night, the Arizona sycamores, and much more.

However, I haven’t been able to clear my mind  sufficiently to write because, when I have access to the internet, I keep taking looks at my Facebook feed, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and then I fret instead of write. We have so many problems: the attempted Muslim ban, the environment, the judiciary, the wall, women’s rights, and deranged tweets about Saturday Night Live, for god’s sake. I need to focus on what I know: There is truth and there is beauty (AKA facts and photos) and I am striving to hold onto both.

Facts I learned

  • It is generally agreed that there are four distinct desert regions in North America: Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mojave, and Great Basin. Arizona claims to be the only state that  contains parts of all four deserts (for more information, see the article from The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum).
  • “By the time Big Bend National Park was established in 1944, there were virtually no resident bears in the Big Bend area.” However, in recent decades black bears have returned and there are approximately 8 to 12 adult bears living in the park now. (for more information, see Black Bears in Big Bend).
  • “The San Pedro River [near Sierra Vista, Arizona] is one of the last free flowing rivers in the Southwest. In 1995, the American Bird Conservancy recognized the San Pedro as its first ‘globally important bird area’ in the the United States, dubbing it the ‘largest and best example of riparian woodland remaining’ in the Southwest (from a brochure of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area).”
  • The Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii)  grows in the Sonoran desert “in riparian washes and canyon bottoms between 2,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation in Arizona, New Mexico and northwestern old Mexico” (see Arizona State University online publication for more information).

Photos I took

Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii), Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii), Ramsey Canyon Preserve

American kestrel (Falco sparverius), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

American kestrel (Falco sparverius), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Tom among the sacaton, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

Tom among the sacaton ( Sporobolus airoides), San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

birds (I don't know their names), San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

birds (I don’t know their names), San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

sunset, Joshua Tree National Park

sunset, Joshua Tree National Park

Observation

I see turmoil, anger, confusion, and sadness in our public life now. I saw a great deal of scat on the desert trails where Tom and I walked.  I am an organic gardener, so I know that scat and other organic debris enriches the soil so beautiful plants can grow. I am going with that: We have scat now, but beautiful flowers will bloom, I do believe.

scat, Murray Springs Clovis Site, Arizona

scat, Murray Springs Clovis Site, Arizona

brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

 

Big Bend National Park

Sierra Vista, Arizona

Last week my husband and I spent four nights camping in Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas. The days and nights were so windy in the Chisos Basin Campground that, when we were away from our campsite, our brand new tent ripped and became airborne until some kindly neighbors caught it and secured it with our camp chairs and several rocks.

our tent, Chisos Basin Campground, not yet airborne

our tent, Chisos Basin Campground, not yet airborne

It was also cold. Note to daughter: Both day and night, I wore  up to five layers on the top–including my fancy Patagonia long underwear–and I was still cold!

keeping warm in Chisos Basin

keeping warm in Chisos Basin

Mostly, we didn’t hear the news. The wind and the cold cleansed us.  The rocks and the sky were grand, as always.  The desert and mountain plants and animals helped us focus on being close to the ground. We had to walk carefully on the rocks and gravel. (See Geology of Big Bend National Park for more information.) We had to bend close to inspect the plants, bark, and rocks. I took photographs to help us remember what we saw.

candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphitica)

candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphitica)

Chisos Mountain pricklypear (Opuntia chisosensis)

Chisos Mountain pricklypear (Opuntia chisosensis)

cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata?

cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata?)

giant dagger yucca (Yucca faxoniana)

giant dagger yucca (Yucca faxoniana)

Carmen Mountains white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus carminis)

Carmen Mountains white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus carminis)

View fromLost Mine Trail, Big Bend N.P.

View from Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend N.P.

The Window, Chisos Basin, Big Bend N.P.

The Window, Chisos Basin, Big Bend N.P.

There is so much more to learn: how volcanoes helped build the Chisos Basin, why the black bears came back to the park, who was that snake we saw in the rocks (he looked like the little ones in my garden), and what will be the impact of climate change on this and other natural sanctuaries? Luckily, Tom and I always find enthusiastic and knowledgeable National Park Service workers to help us with our questions.

another friendly and informative park service ranger

another friendly and informative park service ranger

Sometimes, especially now, I feel uneasy and unsafe in this world, but not from the  slippery rocks or bears or lions. I feel uneasy and unsafe about any who would try to take away our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and our public lands. However, I will keep walking and talking and working to help protect this lovely land and its people.

dangers that I prefer

dangers that I prefer

 

Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge

Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge

Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge

D’Iberville, Mississippi

I see that I am a year behind on writing “Refugees, Part II.” I also have been hanging on to a draft of an article where I parse my long (and glorious!) history with doughnuts. In that piece, I keep trying to connect fried cakes with some sort of existential optimism. I think I understand why I am not finished with that one yet.

I need to feel close to the ground again. I need to clear my heart and head and fill them with flowers, birds, and the smell of pine needles in the sun. My husband Tom and I are on the road again for several weeks: the Tree Steward and the Master Naturalist walking about together before they aren’t able to do so anymore. My current plan is to write short nature-based posts, which I will post more often than has been my habit.

So far in this journey we’ve visited Highlands Hammock State Park in Florida, Everglades National ParkBig Cypress National Preserve, and, today, Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. Here are some photos from today:

wet pine savannah

wet pine savannah

box turtle

box turtle (Terrapene carolina)

parrot's beak pitcher plant (Sarracenia psittacina)

parrot’s beak pitcher plant (Sarracenia psittacina)

inkberry (Ilex glabra)

inkberry (Ilex glabra)

Note: I am not abandoning our country to ethnocentric, sexist, despoilers of all this beauty. I will not be watching television on January 20, 2017. On January 21, if we are near a city, Tom and I will march for women (and their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers). If Tom and I are in the hinterland, our hike will be a march for equality and respect for our people and our land.

 

Still, Life is Beautiful*

summer garden

summer garden

Awakening, November 2016

“Awakening,” November 2016

holly, "Savannah," The National Garden, United States Botanic Garden

holly, “Savannah,” The National Garden, United States Botanic Garden

dim sum, Wheaton, Maryland

dim sum, Wheaton, Maryland

community concert, Charlottesville, Virginia

community concert, Charlottesville, Virginia

food for the hungry

food for the hungry

ump Mountain Vineyard, Rockbridge Baths, Virginia

Jump Mountain Vineyard, Rockbridge Baths, Virginia

birds

birds

*Even though (some days, at least) I think the world is beautiful does not mean I am unaware of the challenges facing our country. I will continue to shelve food at the food bank, help 4th graders learn about the local watershed, and garden organically. It’s time for me to renew my membership to the National Museum of the American Indian, and to donate again to the ACLU.  I believe in the the Constitution (I actually studied it in high school,  as an undergraduate, and in graduate school), including the entire Bill of Rights. I am earnest. I am strong. I believe in the rule of law and in tolerance. I told you before that I didn’t like strife.  I still don’t, but I will speak when I need to speak.

 

Fall Back and Rise Up

maple leaf

maple leaf

So, tonight we fall back again and it can’t come too soon for me.

I love all the seasons, but most of all, I love autumn.  One might think that an odd choice for a gardener.  November has no crocuses (well, Tom tried autumn-blooming crocuses one year, but the squirrels ate them all before we ever saw any blooms) and no crowds or hosts of daffodils.  I have a few peppers hanging on and a couple of cherry tomatoes, but that’s it for summer.

I do not like the hot and humid summer of Virginia, but I love preparing my nest for the winter. Around here, that means finally needing a light comforter with the window open just a bit.  I love soup and chili and, yes, I love football, cider, doughnuts, and good apples.

apples, Charlottesville City Market

apples, Charlottesville City Market

Shifting Gears: Recurrent Fears Every four autumns since I was old enough to vote, I worry about the presidential election. When I taught school in Page, Arizona,  I voted absentee for George McGovern. Later, in Salt Lake City, I voted for Jimmy Carter, even though I always did like Jerry Ford.  In Arlington, Virginia, I couldn’t believe the United States could vote in Ronald Reagan. Reality showed me. I know who won the election in 2000 (the one in fact and the one by Supreme Court fiat). I didn’t believe that George W. Bush could be re-elected after the photos of Abu Ghraib were published.  Now, I am aghast at the specter of  the possibility of a  demagogue poised to claim the presidency by the vote or by the mob.

Tuesday night our friends Daphne and Tom are coming for a sleepover so we can stay up and watch the election returns together.  Reminds me of a pajama party of my youth, where we girls screamed over Psycho. Talk about déjà vu. I think we will all need blankets to cover our heads when scary returns come in. We will be okay, though.  Tom will be making comfort food: spaghetti and meatballs and garlic toast. No one’s (that I’ve tasted) meatballs and spaghetti are as good as Tom’s are and we will have a green salad of lettuce, chard, arugula, and herbs fresh-picked from my fall garden.  I have been considering what dessert will be the homiest and most comforting and I have decided on apple crisp.  I am using Joy of Cooking‘s recipe, which tastes the most like my mom’s–talk about comfort.

The leaves still fall with sunny abandon, so I am not (too) afraid.

path, Ivy Creek Natural Area

path, Ivy Creek Natural Area

I believe that what Maya Angelou wrote (see Still I Rise ) is true for all of us:

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Maybe Tuesday or maybe later, I believe–as I have since childhood–that we will rise all of us: stronger and better together.

 

September 1999

Tom's rose, Awakening

Awakening

In September 1999, a former adult ESL student of mine was found dead in the trunk of a car a few blocks from our school.

Today, thanks to the efforts of many, including the Arlington County (VA) Police Department’s Cold Case Unit, a suspect has been extradited from Guatemala to Arlington, Virginia.  I don’t want to to write my former student’s name here (and certainly not his), but you can find them somewhere if you want.

I just want to tell you a little bit about her.  She was young. She was sweet and funny.  When our class walked over to the park for a picnic and games, she could really belt the softball (it might have been a hardball).

It might have been for Valentine’s Day, but, anyhow, she gave me a little redbird music box that chirped Beethoven’s  “Ode to Joy.”

I took the bird off my bookshelf a few minutes ago.  I had thought the little bird stopped chirping years ago, but she chirped a few bars for me.

O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
More songs full of joy!
Joy!
Joy! (taken from a translation of Schiller’s lyrics at http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/romanticperiodsymphonies/qt/Beethovenjoytxt.htm)

Joy to you somewhere, my dear.

Ode to Joy redbird

Ode to Joy redbird