Posted by: ktzefr | March 31, 2017

Scaly-napped Pigeon in a Gumbo Limbo Tree

Every morning this fellow and/or some of his friends cooed outside my cottage in the British Virgins.  In the tropics their morning song is the next best sound to the night rains.  Although the scaly-naped pigeon is common in most of the Caribbean, is any bird truly ordinary?  This one is arboreal, spending most of its time in the trees, eating seeds and leaf buds and even small snails.   

Here he sits in a gumbo limbo tree.  The locals call this the “tourist tree” because its bark is reddish and peels like the skin of tourists who stay too long in the sun.  Zoom and look at those red eyes!

Scaly-naped pigeon, British Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

I collect birds.  Not real birds.  Pictures of birds.  Memories of birds.  I keep tabs on the birds I’ve known — where they come from, where they go, what it feels like to look into the eyes of a bird.   A bird sees everything at once in total focus.  Whereas the human eye is globular and must adjust to varying distances, the bird’s eye is flat and can take in everything at once in a single glance.  Ordinary? 

I always wanted to fly like a bird, not strapped in a seat but with “wings” flapping free.  For years I’ve had a recurring dream of flying — or, at least, trying to fly.  But, even in the dream, I’m more chicken than bird.  Not “chicken” as in afraid, but I fly like a chicken — literally.  It’s more like fly jumping.  I leap into the air and fly for a second or two but then fall back to the ground, like a fat chicken trying to flee the coop.  I can’t stay aloft.  That’s ordinary.

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Have an extraordinary weekend!

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | March 22, 2017

The Happiness of Small Things

I bought a vacuum cleaner today.  It’s a newfangled, lightweight machine that is a 2 in 1 — an upright cleaner and a handvac.  No dust bags.  No cords.  No cords!  It comes with a rechargeable battery, so no more tripping over the cord, running over it and nicking the wire, or having to plug and unplug from one room to the next.  No.  It will not make housework fun.   Easier is nice, but it doesn’t equate to fun.

One tiny crocus has managed to push its way into the world to offer a moment of happiness.

Crocus; Photo:KFawcett

Things are not always as they seem/appear — the walls are not gray; they’re blue.  The Mexican lantern is not blue; its glass is clear.  The sun through the window has given me something to ponder…

Kierkegaard wrote:  “To become again a child, to become as nothing, without any selfishness, to become again a youth, notwithstanding one has become shrewd, shrewd by experience, shrewd in worldly wisdom, and then to despise the thought of behaving shrewdly, to will to be a youth, to will to retain youth’s enthusiasm with its spontaneity unabated, to will to reacquire it by valiant effort…yes, that is the task.”

It is a small thing that often takes great effort — to see the world, again, through the eyes of a child.  Sometimes the elephant and the mouse are both small.

At the feeder: my boys (goldfinch) are now getting lots of yellow feathers; grackles are just blackbirds until the sun hits them and their iridescent blue/green heads sparkle; the wet ground beneath the feeder makes for good worm-hunting for the robins.  Through this dirty kitchen window…they congregate at the watering hole for happy hour.

****

After hearing the sad news from Britain today, I googled a number of countries around the world looking for good news.  No big headlines.  I guess folks in the news business don’t profit much from reporting the good stuff.  If you’ve read an uplifting story worth repeating, send a link.  On paper the world looks small and colorful and…connected — as if the puzzle is complete, no pieces missing, no challenges to face.

At the coffee shop:  Latte.  Whole milk.  Lots of foam.  At the next table, two old people talking: “When did it become silly to hold hands?” she asks, giving him a look he’s likely seen before.  He shrugs, sips his coffee, stares out the window.  They are quiet.  She breaks off pieces of a chocolate chip scone — a bit for him, a bit for her.  When they get up to leave, he takes her hand. 

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Posted by: ktzefr | March 17, 2017

Foto Friday: Angles — Looking Up

“A vivir que son dos dias”  (old Spanish saying — “Life lasts just a couple of days” or “Life is short” i.e. Enjoy!)

Playa del Carmen; Photo:KFawcett

 

“Two reeds drink from one stream, one is hollow, the other is sugar-cane.”  ~ Rumi

Medio Mundo, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

 

“I love this world, but not for its answers.” ~ Mary Oliver, “Snowy Night”

New York City; Photo:KFawcett

 

Have a good weekend!

**********

Posted by: ktzefr | March 13, 2017

Treasures, Memories, Migrations, and Beans

The forsythia and daffodils are blooming and the trees are full of buds.  Soon the wind will carry the sweet scents of the flowering trees and the tulips will bloom.  Well, my tulips won’t bloom.  The squirrels have eaten the bulbs and left a dirty mess on the porch.  That’s NOT a pretty picture, so here’s one of tulips from another place/time…

 

Tulips; Photo:KFawcett

Tulips.  Holland.  Windmills and Dikes.  The stories I heard as a child — the boy who stuck his finger in a hole in the dike and saved Holland, the Dutch girl rhymes we jumped rope to in the school yard at recess.  Years later, I remember standing on a boat in the rain in Amsterdam.  And eating cheese.  Wonderful cheese.  Growing up in Kentucky I had never tasted such as assortment of cheeses.  Years later, in Mérida, Yucatan, I’m eating chiles rellenos and a dozen other dishes smothered in hot, melted cheese.  Delicioso!  And I have to ask — what kind?  The reply: “Edam.”

Edam?  Dutch cheese in Mexico?  Turns out it’s a basic ingredient in many traditional dishes of Yucatan — from chiles rellenos to sweet papaya with shredded cheese to marquesitas (those wonderful rolled wafers filled with cheese and covered in caramel that are sold by street vendors in the Plaza Mayor) — all made from a special Edam-like cheese ball imported from Holland (Queso de Bola), but not available in the rest of Mexico or the United States.

In the 19th century Holland was a trading partner with Yucatan.  This, when all the world needed the sisal rope made in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Mérida became one of the richest cities in the world.  Boats came across the Atlantic to the Port of Progreso bearing goods to swap for sisal, and the locals loved the Dutch cheese.  They still do.  Me, too.  It’s one of those memories that sticks to the taste buds.

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When I was growing up in Kentucky the grownups often talked about the day the uncles, aunts, and cousins left for Detroit.  It was sometime in the 50s, after the war.  Cars packed, pulling all the belongings in trailers behind them, they left the hills with the kids leaning out the windows, waving good-bye.

Birds migrate thousands of miles.  Butterflies migrate.  Elephants migrate.  Appalachians migrate, too.

It’s all about having a better life.  Not so elusive to birds and butterflies and elephants — the better life is “here” for awhile and then it’s “there.”  Not always so, if you ask the Appalachian people.  There are trade-offs.  The things you gain, the ones you lose, and the struggle to replace what you left behind.

I suppose this happens in immigrant communities, too.  That need to reach back and retain something good from the other life.  It’s hard to give up language and customs and traditions.  It’s giving up identity, really.

“You can’t have everything.”  I heard this a lot growing up.  I didn’t take it seriously.  Having it all was a matter of finding the right place, right job, right lifestyle.  Young people are stubborn, innocent, believers.  Until they’re not.  Love, values, beliefs, friends, meaning…there is no place to purchase a box or a book or a bag filled with all those treasures that money cannot buy.  There is luck involved.  And hard work.  And keeping one’s mind on track.  There is joy in re-invention, so long as one is able to recognize treasure…

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Sifting through my notes…there is a reference to Mare Nostrum, a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea.

Rapallo, Italy, 1972.  Outside my window stands the Castle on the Sea with the blue-green wash of the Mediterranean tickling its stone feet; the tide comes and goes, as tides are wont to do.  And sometimes people, too.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  But this image stays: the fireworks start, like flowers of light filling the black sky, and I watch the lit debris falling, falling into the sea.  I’m standing on a balcony drinking cognac with new friends I will never see again.  We’re celebrating some event that I can no longer recall…

“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have have changed.  Some forever, not for better.  Some have gone and some remain.  All those places have their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall.  Some are dead and some are living…In my life, I’ve loved them all…”  (The Beatles released this song on my birthday in 1965.)

**********

The late afternoon sun is pouring into the living room.  Round, lighted dots dance on the walls and ceiling.  I search for their origin and find it on the hearth.  The green cut glass candle holder, sitting in a slant of sunlight, is catching the rays just right to reflect around the room in a dozen or more points of light, and I think about what happens when two disparate things, like the sun and the candle holder, come together and produce something new, something that does not resemble either one.  On cloudy days the points of light don’t exist at all.  They are not merely hidden, waiting to be found.  They simply do not exist without this kind of moment, these conditions.  As the sun drops further west, the light shifts and the dots fade.  Temporary: a bright, shiny…moment.

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When the uncles and aunts and cousins all went to Detroit to work in the car factories in the 50s, my dad and mom stayed home.  They ran a store, tended a garden, bought a cow.  They told us to go to school, do our work, and “Don’t bring home Cs.”  I’m enormously grateful for that.

My dad said the Bible promises the “first will be last and the last first” and I wasn’t quite sure how this happened, but I was always looking forward to moving up the line.  “A step at a time,” he said.  Don’t worry about the odds.  Odds are made to be defied.  Odds don’t amount to a “hill of beans.”

Now, for those who don’t speak Appalachian, a “hill of beans” means one bean plant, not a mountain of beans.  A “mess of beans,” on the other hand, means enough freshly-picked beans for supper.  And someone who is said to be “full of beans” may or may not have eaten.  Supper is beside the point.  Suffice it to say that beans, in this case, have nothing to do with food.

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And so it’s Monday.  Odds are it’s going to snow!

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Posted by: ktzefr | March 3, 2017

Rain, Tea, Poetry

Tranquility –

Rain on the palapa roof

Tea on the porch

Sarapiqui Neotropical Center, Costa Rica; Photo:MFawcett

Sarapiqui Neotropical Center, Costa Rica; Photo:MFawcett

I love the way our minds make associations and jump easily from here to there in space and time, connecting people and places and moments in life that otherwise may not seem to be related at all.

The poet, Mary Oliver, says it best: “Of all the reasons for gladness,/what could be foremost of this one,/that the mind can seize both the instant and the memory!”

This week I’ve been reading the zen poetry of Ryokan, the Japanese hermit-monk who grew up wealthy but chose to spend much of his life in poverty and alone.  I realized after reading part-way through this collection of poems (One Robe, One Bowl) that it was always raining.  Was this a reflection of Ryokan’s loneliness?  Just a few of the images flipping through the book…

“Lying in bed, listening to the sound of freezing rain.”  “…all night a steady rain pours off the banana tree.” “Sparse rain: in my desolate hermitage at night…”  “Light rain — the mountain forest is wrapped in mist.”  “…the autumn wind blowing a light rain that rustles through the reeds.”  “I have mistaken the sound of the river for the voice of the rain.”

Winter, summer, spring, fall — poems for every season.  And rain.  I like this one:

“Late at night, listening to the winter rain,

recalling my youth —

Was it only a dream?  Was I really young once?”

*****

Windchimes; Photo:KFawcett

Windchimes; Photo:KFawcett

Associations — When I started reading this collection it was sunny and in the 70s.  I was having tea on the porch.  But the further I got into the book and the day and the “rain” images, the more the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in and I eventually had to pack up everything and head inside to keep from getting wet. 

By then I was thinking about rain in Kentucky — the way the clouds dropped over the hills above the river (wrapping them in mist, like the images in Ryokan).  I knew to the minute how long I could stay outside before the rain would reach me.  Well, most of the time I knew.   

I remembered rains in other places, too — from the Eastern Shore to the Caribbean to the mountains of Mexico and the rain forests of Costa Rica.  I’ve often heard others fret about the rain, especially if they’re on vacation or planning to go.  But I actually like rain at the beach and especially the “morning after” the night rains in the islands and the jungle.  Everything seems fresh and alive and new again. 

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Years ago, when this photo on the Sarapiqui River was taken, I was sitting on another porch, watching rain drip from the palapa roof, trying to absorb the incredible beauty of my first experience with rain in the rain forest.  Long before then I was reading Ernesto Cardenal, the revolutionary Nicaraguan poet who had studied for awhile with Thomas Merton at the Trappist monastery in Kentucky.  His poetry was known for its political messages, but I was drawn to the cultural traditions revealed in his writing and the beautiful images of a country he obviously loved.  It was easy to fall in love with Central America…

“Thousands of fireflies in the black foliage

and the Southern Cross

deep in the black sky…

And there was a clamor in the air:

the cry perhaps of a strange bird,

answering another cry like it farther off.

Sarapiqui!:

The water so clear

it was invisible.”

~ Ernesto Cardenal, “19th-Century Traveler on the Rio San Juan”

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So, I was sitting on the back porch beneath the bare maple reading the poetry of a monk living in 18th century Japan who was writing about rain, and my mind hopped and skipped around all over the place to the rains I’ve known and the poets I’ve read and how it all is somehow connected.  I was feeling that gladness that Mary Oliver spoke of when she said the mind is able to “seize both the instant and the memory.”

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SarapiquiS Neotropical Center, Rainforest Lodge

Posted by: ktzefr | February 25, 2017

Slipping Away Home: Appalachia

When I was growing up it was easy to find a space and the time to be alone — to disconnect from the world in a way that seems more difficult for kids these days.  I am glad to be alive in this century with all of the “toys” of modern technology, but I’m glad I was born in the past one. 

Barn in KY; painted by a family friend, Ed McGrath,sometime in the 80s

Barn in KY; painted by a family friend, Ed McGrath,sometime in the 80s

Home

I still recall, sometimes, the old barn loft

on the farm in Kentucky, the ladder steps,

the scent of hay, and that feeling of being

far away.

 

Wasp nests hung in corners where

the roof arched, the old wood raw, never painted

and the floor boards with wide spaces,

where I could peek down and watch the cows

eating hay.

 

From the flung-open door, I could see

all the way down our lane to the road, across

the neighboring fields to the river,

the hills beyond.

 

It was a place to daydream, to slip away

on rainy days, to curl up in the hay, to be

someone else entirely, in some new place

not-yet seen. 

 

Until Mom called me home for supper.

*****

Did you have a favorite place to slip away?

Posted by: ktzefr | February 24, 2017

Favorite Foto Friday: Cenote Xlacah

Cenote Xlacah at the ruins of the ancient city of Dzibilchaltún on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.  The cenote connects to an underground river system and is home to a species of spiny fish found only in the Yucatán.  It’s part of an eco-archeological park a few minutes north of the city of Mérida, and there’s a terrific little museum (Museo del Pueblo Maya) on site.  Full of lily pads and fish and a fun place to swim.

Cenote Xlacah, Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán; Photo:KFawcett

Cenote Xlacah, Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán; Photo:KFawcett

Posted by: ktzefr | February 21, 2017

Butterflies in Winter

img_1199I spend most of the winter thinking about spring and the return of hummingbirds and butterflies.  Though I prefer heading south to Mexico or the islands in autumn, along with the migrating critters, the next best thing is a visit to the Butterfly Pavilion at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

This past Saturday was sunny and mild outside and it felt almost like the tropics in the flower-and-mist-filled Pavilion.  Here are some favorites…

Butterfly, Mariposa; Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

The pavilion is filled with exotic plants and live butterflies from around the world.

 

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

The sphinx moth looks like a hummingbird buzzing around the blooms.  It’s also called the hummingbird moth.

 

Sphinx Moth, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Sphinx Moth, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

 

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

 

Monarch butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Monarch butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

The beautiful Blue Morpho is the one that got away.  Though there were three or four floating around the pavilion, they didn’t stay still long enough to get a good picture.  One of the Blue Morpho liked to park himself on the tile floor — a dangerous spot with so many feet coming and going and not the best background to show off his lovely blue metallic wings.  Maybe next time…

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Posted by: ktzefr | February 10, 2017

Friday’s Fotos: Hiking in the USVI

One morning I was hiking here…

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John USVI; Photo:KFawcett

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John USVI; Photo:KFawcett

When I looked up and saw this…

Argiope Argentata (silver argiope spider); Photo:KFawcett

Argiope Argentata (silver argiope spider); Photo:KFawcett

She was BIG!  (And what a loot — I counted more than 25 trapped flies.) No, I did not have to examine the spider up close to determine the sex.  The argiope silver female is much bigger than the male.  Beside her, he is a dwarf.  She has more interesting coloration as well. This spider is an orbweaver  and the web is easily identified with its conspicuous zigzagging white silk banner; this decoration is called stabilimento–as seen on zooming.  The spider’s body looks similar to a seashell.

img_1777

Orbweavers are busy workers.  Many of them rebuild their webs every morning.  They also keep their eye on the prize.  If a flying insect (moths, butterflies, flies, etc.) are caught in the web, they are bitten quickly once trapped so they don’t get away.  Other prey, bugs that can’t easily flee, are wrapped in silk before they’re bitten.  The silver argiope is not particular about mealtime.  Mosquitoes, grasshoppers, flies, moths, and any other critter small enough to get trapped will do.  

I’m not a spider fan, but with the Zika virus and other nasty bugs being passed along by mosquitoes, it’s nice to have a critter around that likes to eat them.  The silver argiope is not a pest, not endangered, and not a threat.  Though the spider will bite if threatened, the bite is not generally serious unless the victim is a very young child or older adult. 

I only stood beneath the web long enough to take a photo, however, just in case she didn’t like my looks. 

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Posted by: ktzefr | February 6, 2017

Krazy for Kumquats

Kumquats are ripe!

Kumquats; Photo:KFawcett

Kumquats; Photo:KFawcett

“For however many kumquats that I eat

I’m not sure if it’s flesh or rind that’s sweet,

And being a man of doubt at life’s mid-way

I’d offer Keats some kumquats and I’d say:

You’ll find that one part’s sweet and one part’s tart:

Say where the sweetness or the sourness start.”

~ from “A Kumquat for John Keats” by Tony Harrison

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Kumquats are like inside-out oranges — sweet rind, tart flesh.  But they are bite-sized like grapes.  Eat the whole fruit — seeds and all.  But don’t buy green or yellow fruit!  Ripe kumquats are brilliant orange. Their color symbolizes wealth, and they are a traditional gift for the Lunar New Year in China. 

teaspoonThe first time I bought raw kumquats I treated them like little oranges and meticulously peeled away the rind and removed the seeds.  I was left with a small blob of sour pulp that was not the least bit appetizing.  Adding an inordinate amount of sugar didn’t help.  The fruit concoction was tasteless. 

How one should eat a fruit is sometimes the most important thing to learn.  I grew up eating apples and oranges and bananas, but I have since learned how to scoop out the insides of a pitaya, a zapote, or a passion fruit, and that a ripe cherimoya can be broken apart by hand, and that all mango species were not created equal.  Picking the right fruit at the right time and knowing how to eat it properly makes all the difference.

Decades ago I bought a jar of preserved kumquats for a recipe called Hong Kong Sundaes.  I’m not sure what happened to the recipe, but I played around with it over the years and still make a variation with a number of different fresh fruits.  (Cook ripe kumquats until they soften a bit in a simple sugar syrup, and then add brown sugar and butter.  Turn off the heat and add some Grand Marnier.  Serve warm over a slice of pound cake and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.  Amazing!)

chile The wonderful, sweet little fruits pictured above are Frieda’s Adorable Kumquats. 

*****

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