Saturday, January 27, 2018

IN THE COMPANY OF STARS



I’m star struck.

Twice.

First, I’m hanging out with Hedwig. Really. 

Well, I’m hanging out with one of the snowy owls used to portray Harry Potter’s companion owl. She wasn’t in the films. She did the promotional circuit for the immensely famous books about deliciously magical people.

And so I consider this a magical moment and even though there are more than 12 other magnificent raptors on perches in this small room (more later) I can’t stop staring at Hedwig. I remember reading when Hagrid gave her to Harry. And when she flew to France to deliver Hermione’s birthday present. Potter fans can be reminded of all things Hedwig here.  

Jonathon Woods uses an audience volunteer to feed the eagle
Star struck No. 2:  I’m hanging with Jonathon and Susan Woods, who are here with their birds, in this small room at the South Padre Island (Texas) Birding and Nature Center.  I paid $5 to voluntarily wedge myself into this small room packed with about 100 people because I am such a fan of The Raptor Project. It’s the same wild bird presentation Allen and I scrambled to see at the New York State Fair for years. In fact, 18 years. 

They aren’t at the fair anymore, they said. Been gone four or five years. Politics. Shame. Because the Woods are living encyclopedias of birds of prey. They manage to rehabilitate injured birds and set them free or, if the disability is too great, take them on this road show.  To educate people like me. And I love it.

These birds are not stuffed, just flexing
So this sardine-packed room has about 12 magnificent raptors in it and we are close enough to all of them to see their eyes blink. There’s a vulture, a caracara (known locally as a Mexican Bald Eagle) a real bald eagle, a golden eagle, many falcons and big and little owls.

And of course, there’s Hedwig. She sits through the 45 minute show watching us as intently as we watch her.  Whenever Jonathon is near her, he tussles her feathers, kisses her head. She coos. 

She’s his companion.

So you see, it IS Hedwig.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A SEA TURTLE SUPERSTAR

Donna

I know the day’s supposed to be about the turtles.

In fact, that’s why I am here, at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, at the south end of South Padre Island, huddled with hundreds of others behind yellow police tape, just waiting for the release of the rescued turtles.

(To find out why they need to be released, watch this video.)

But what captures my attention and soon my heart is Donna. She’s a Jennifer Aniston look-alike (well, nearly) and she’s kneeling in the sand a few people up from me. I learn, because of her sheer excitement, that Donna is a rescuer.

She found one of these cold-stunned turtles while she and her boyfriend were exploring Boca Chica, an expanse of beach not to far from here and right next to Mexico. It’s a stretch of land destined to become very, very famous because Elon Musk is building his Space X launch pad there.

But for now, it’s still wild, and it attracts adventurers like Donna and her boyfriend, who were walking down the beach toward the border with Mexico, to the place with the Rio Grand spills into the Gulf of Mexico. They moved along the sand,  huddled against the wind and the chill, looking for beautiful seashells as they go.

 What they saw instead was a lifeless, 100-pound lump of giant sea turtle stranded on the sand, not moving. She touched its head and its eyelids fluttered, so she knew it was alive. But not for long. They needed to help.

So she and her boyfriend hefted the giant up the beach and into the backseat of her car. Then drove about 45 miles to the Sea Turtle Rescue on South Padre Island, where volunteers warmed it up and, a few days later, released it back into the Gulf. (Yay!)

So now Donna is part of the family, part of the turtle safety net. She comes to all the turtle releases. She's giddy with renewed joy each time. Ands glows with excitement as volunteers carry the turtles back to the sea. For me, it’s fun to see. For her, it’s a homecoming.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

PAYING HOMAGE TO SATURDAY

My little winter escape on South Padre Island, Texas

During the winter, I live in a quiet campground (just 16 trailers) usually populated by others like me, happily retired seniors who walk their dogs three times a day and mingle in the middle to chat.

This winter, though, two youngsters live among us, a 30-something burly construction worker and his wife, who work nearby on a natural gas pipeline. They work Monday through Friday. And they play on Saturday. They play hard, with loud music, loud car vacuums, loud whatnot. 

They create an energy to Saturday I’d long forgotten about, an energy that sets it apart from the work week. Because Monday through Friday is quiet and regimented. It’s a work week. Its form and function destine it to work.

But Saturday is Fun Day. Anything can happen because it’s off the clock. They tinker with their trucks, tend their dogs, vacuum the trailer, sip beers and listen to music.  Loud music. Sometimes head-banging music. But never for long.  (Who knew there's a funky rock version of "Margaritaville"? Heard it today. Hmmmm.)

I’ll not complain.  It’s OK for them to thump my world a little bit on Saturday because heck, I’m retired. Every day is my Saturday, so I have seven to their one. They can have their one however they want it, I say, listening to a rambling wild guitar riff I don’t actually like much at all. 

And because that riff is never ending, maybe I’ll go walk the beach. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE MILLENNIALS


They look like such ordinary kids. 20-somethings (well, one has tipped into his 30s). Out to tour the country (theirs and ours) before adulting (I’m getting used to this word.).

Nice kids from Canada. Friendly. They are camped next to us on South Padre Island, Texas, and plan to head home soon to Victoria (on Vancouver Island)  after spending nearly a year on the road. 


We invite them to dinner. Because they are so nice. And maybe, I think, a few new adults in their life might make the segue to adulting transparent. 

Oh. So. Naive.

Meet Justin and Tenile. He is from Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, and she is from South Africa. While she was in film editing school then running her own film editing business, he was driving the ice roads up North,  lumberjacking the jungles of Central America and volunteering to fight fires in Canada.  My head is spinning. Really? 

They met, married and partnered in her business, which they now do daily from their trailer, while on the road, exploring their country and ours.

They took to traveling because their life changed. They lost their home (literally … the owner plans to tear it down). So instead of trying to find another place to set down roots, they bought a trailer and started the traveling gig.

And now they are heading home because their life has changed again. They’ll soon be parents and they prefer Canada’s free health care system over the bloated one we have here.

Phew. Amazing. Wow.

OK. These not-so-ordinary kids don’t need lessons in adulting. They got it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

(TALL?) TALES OF THE DEAD


Eugene Fernandez giving a cemetery tour


I never met a guy who had more relatives or knew more scuttlebutt about dead people than Eugene Fernandez, curator of the Old City Cemetery in Brownsville.

Eugene is my tour guide at this cemetery, where legions of his cousins, uncles and grandfathers are buried  (or so he says; wink wink).

As we walk, he regales us with love triangles, suspicious business deals and war tales. Heck, his cousin (over there, Eugene says, pointing out over my head) served in three or four wars, went deaf from the gunfire, but never fired a gun himself, then died a peaceful death in his 90s. Then there’s his great-grandfather (maybe it was great-great), who sold faulty munitions to Mexican fighters, so their bombs popped then fizzled piles of dust and dirt. 

Then he stops at a vandalized tombstone, a decapitated angel carrying a large cross. He tilts his head toward the statuary: “I know who bit her head off.” 

Michel Schodt
And so the tale (tall?)  begins. The grave belongs to Michel Schodts, a wealthy businessman in Brownsville, who forbade his only daughter from marrying her beloved.  Well, she did anyway, and to get back at Dad either hired an assassin or pulled the trigger herself and shot him dead in the streets in 1896.

Out of sheer hatefulness, she then knocked the angel’s head off.

Or so Eugene says.
Decapitated angel at Schodt  grave.
I tried to verify his claim. Several newspaper accounts from the time point to an unknown assassin. And, three months after his death, apparently Marie was offering a $50,000 reward ($1.4 million today) for information about the killer. And reports the following year show it was Marie herself who bought the monument, all marble, for $500,  roughly $14,000 today.

So who’s right? Eugene’s scuttlebutt smells of an Internet yarn. But, he's the town’s expert genealogy researcher (hold’s that title) and has such a large family (mostly dead), therefore, I imagine he can rattle skeletons from anyone’s closet.

So it must be true.

Or not.


Friday, January 5, 2018

A CREATIVE SPACE FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE

I’m cold (35 degrees). 

And I’m in Texas. Near the Mexican border. We come here in winter to get away from winter.

I stop complaining when I think about my grandson Porter, who is living in his truck up north in Austin  (24 degrees).  He won’t be in that truck long. He has the promise of living in a little house, called the Pink House (he says he’ll find a more appropriate name),  in a most unique community.

He lives in Earphoria, a commune-type hostel for musicians (Porter plays guitar) and music lovers. It gives musicians (and music lovers) from all over the world an inexpensive place to stay with their music. 

We visited at Christmas (feeling blessed) and walked around the acre of living space with Porter as  guide. There’s the community kitchen, the laundry spot, an airstream, a few other trailers, the chicken coop, the green house, and, of course, the pink house.

We also visited the music house, a fully functioning recording studio with instruments inside.  All the living spaces radiate from that music house. As do the people who live there.

I’ve posted pictures below. It’s cold here and it’s cold there and I love that Porter has the promise of the Pink House. And gets to keep his music with him.
The entrance to a special hostel in Austin
The pink house way at the back will be Porter's
A close up of the pink house


One of the hostel living spaces

Porter and his girlfriend Kiley built this patio



A living space


A living space


Communal kitchen

Chicken coop


Greenhouse

Inside the music house

Recording studio



Storage

Cords


The main house

The laundry

Outdoor art

Rain gear

Music corner inside the main house








Saturday, December 23, 2017

A HAPPY SPOT IN A WOBBLY JOURNEY

This is my view of this lady. A link below offers more.

Little gifts. From God. That’s what sustains me along this journey of missed opportunities, failed plans and disappointing  decisions.

We left home the day after Thanksgiving for our winter adventure with a calendar full of exciting things to do before Christmas: national parks in Mississippi and Louisiana, days and days of playtime with friends, a few zoos and a presidential library.

None of that happened.

None. 

Instead, we’ve had to deal with replacing our trailer’s tires (one exploded!) a failed phone (brother-in-law came to the rescue), a refrigerator on the rocks (literally chunks of ice keep it cold)  and illness (not ours, but theirs, and we wish them better health.)

Today, another failure. The historic Water Works Museum in Shreveport, LA,  has  no room for us (and our trailer) so we must move on. 

OK. I am now pouting.  I stick out my lower lip, rest my cheek on my fist and stare out the truck window, watching Shreveport and all its potential flash by. (Pitiful, I know.)

Then I see her. 

Up ahead, to the right, a massive, graceful woman painted on the side of the building. As we move closer (we are on the highway) I see another side of the building. It's populated with images of other people, huge people, the biggest mural I’ve ever seen. And it is spectacular. Absolutely spectacular. Colorful. Lively. Enticing.

It lifts my spirits. I treasure seeing this.

All too soon, the beautiful woman and her entourage are behind us. But the joy of seeing them lingers. So I Google Shreveport murals. What did I just see?

Well, well.  I was just gifted the largest mural IN THE NATION. 

You can read all about it here, and see lots of pictures. My little uplifting gift from God.



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

SOMETHING ELSE MIGHT BE BETTER

Waltzing Waters: Amazing in concert

I don’t always get what I want. Thank goodness.

We are visiting the Edison Ford Estate in Ft. Myers, FL,  on a special night to see the mansions decorated for Christmas. The massive estate preserves the winter homes and workshops of famous good friends Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and, as such, preserves a ton of history about the  pair.
The Vagabonds' chuck wagon
The ticket guy says we don’t need the $30 guided tour tonight. For $20, he says, we see all the same things. I’m game.

We start with the museum —  a marvelous, account of the men’s lives, including their extraordinary vacations with their other good friends, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs. These men “camped” in style, with servants and even a president of the United States or two. (https://thehenryford.org/collections-and-research/digital-resources/popular-topics/the-vagabonds/)

We leave the museum and head over to the mansions, where we are shut out. Not allowed in. Only the $30 tickets get inside. What? $20 can peer through the windows. Like peeping toms!

I am miffed. But peep we do.

 And, it is just perfect.

Edison mansion all lit up for Christmas
All of the windows are open and we enjoy the same view as the $30 ticket holders without the bumping and elbowing of the crowd. We  listen to the tour guide discuss menus for the holiday meals and talk about guests who may or may not arrive for the evening. 

And we can leave the crowd behind when we want, and move on to the next exciting thing. Like the beautiful, colorful Waltzing Waters, a synchronized spraying of water fountains, where we find front-row seats. Under the stars. The waters dance to Christmas carols. It is lovely. 

On the way to our truck, we pass a pack of $30s being led by a guide, who is talking fast, spewing facts but not stopping to enjoy the lighted gardens or watch the dancing waters.

So yes, sometimes, I don’t get what I want. Thank goodness.
\
Allen, in lights
Even the famous banyon tree is lighted for the holidays







Room inside Edison mansion (taken through the window)

Monday, December 11, 2017

More than a meal



The food in a word: Remarkable. The waitress? Sublime.

That we happened upon this delightful eatery?  By Chance. And our good fortune.

We stumble upon the cafe (Boca in Sarasota, FL) by chance because it’s between our parked truck and our destination: Penzey’s, a chain of herb-and-spice stores (also remarkable and sublime). 

On our way to buy Vietnamese cinnamon, orange extract and za’atar, we stop to read the menu. And find things we’ve never heard of  (“Cowgirl candy” — pickled sweet jalapeƱos)  and cleverly named entrees (OMG Burger, served with parmesan and truffle fries … yum.) Both hook me as a customer; Allen, a finicky eater with simple tastes, takes the bait, too (surprisingly).

So we are seated inside a deep box of a room with activity everywhere, from a flame-fired brick oven to a huge chalkboard with the names of the farms supplying today’s fresh food. On the wall to my right is a huge perpendicular hanging garden of herbs and lettuce greens. On my left is a bar. And everywhere people, young and beautiful, and old and beautiful.

Now here is our fortune: Meeting Chelsey. She’s our waitress and she understands immediately Allen’s preference for Wendy’s (she says it was hers, too, before coming to work here). And my need to avoid dairy (I get no avocado sauce with my ahi tuna because it’s made with cream.) 

Don’t know how the conversation lands on pets. But it does and she enjoys showing us pictures of Chance, her 6-month-old pit/lab mix, who lived his early months with a homeless woman in car. Until Chelsey rescued him.

Now Chance colors Chelsey’s world. And she’s excited to let us know her boyfriend is just outside, with Chance, so we can meet the doggie.

And we do.

Sweet Chance. He still loves to ride in a car. Still loves people. But it it clear who makes his life colorful.  

And that makes everyone smile. Sweet Chance and Chelsey. Meeting you was our good fortune.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

A GALLERY TO SEA ON THE GULF


We’re driving up the South Padre Island beach in southern Texas on a particularly gray day when suddenly our path is squeezed by a fallen tree. Stop. Wait. What’s on that tree?




I get out. And look.



I see a collection of children’s toy boats balanced down the limb toward the Gulf of Mexico. Wow. It’s amazing the wind and the waves have failed to claim these toys. I walk closer. And learn why. Each plastic boat is attached to the tree by a galvanized screw. It’s intentional. It’s beach art. I feel blessed by beach art.I climb back in the truck  and we continue our journey (skirting the installation, of course, dipping our tires into the waves). Not far down the beach I see another piece of colorfully adorned driftwood. Stop!






I get out and walk closer. It’s the same concept — toys screwed to the tree — but the toys are different. They’re ravaged.  It’s not just art. It’s art from objects found on the beach, left behind by tourists or washed ashore by waves (anything that topples overboard into the Gulf of Mexico eventually washes up on Padre Island. It’s just the way the currents go.




SO I feel twice blessed. Take tons of close-ups and stand for a long shot. That's when I see them. In the distance. Behind the dunes. Other pieces of art. Jutting up from the sand. A gallery of beach art hidden behind the dunes. I walk closer to each one. Examine the media. Take pictures. Holler to Allen to come look.

 A missile, ready for launch. 


It's made from 5-gallon buckets and their lids.





A Christmas tree.




Its base decorated with lost cigarette lighters and toys.



Lost shoes form its boughs.





I found this thingamajig. Looks like a failed torpedo, striped with spent lighters.



A little garden gives the sand a pop of color.



Soon, we hop back in the truck and continue our journey. STOP! More beach art. This one is spectacular. An abandoned diving bell decorated with beer cans, seashells and plastic toys. AND, a sense of humor and design. 







And finally, we see this. 



Allen says it's not art. Because it lacks intent. I say art is in the eye. Snap the picture. Then we continue on our journey.