About Me

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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Blooms of Christmas

We were fortunate enough to spend several days recently in Brevard County, Florida, in a sweet 1960’s motel right on the Atlantic Ocean (which happened to have such erratic wifi that I decided to abandon the computer for a few days and just enjoy being, for a change). We left two inches of snow on the ground and arrived to temperatures in the low seventies that rose to an eighty-degree afternoon on our last day in the area. After what had felt like weeks (but was actually only a few days) of cold grayness in Toledo and Parkersburg, I at least was ready for warmth and sun. Brevard County delivered.

That warmth and sun mean that some flowers bloom through the winter, even though we were above Florida’s frost line and not in the tropics. Genuinely tender things were done for the year, and deciduous trees had lost their leaves, but the blooms of Christmas were there for the enjoying. Some were exotic to my northern eyes, like this Chinese hibiscus growing in my in-laws' yard. While I know that they really provide no benefits to wildlife, it is difficult to resist the allure of something this outrageously gorgeous.

Also in bloom were familiar summer annuals long frozen out in our area, like this morning glory

and this pentas, blooming at the botanical gardens of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.

Our beachside motel was landscaped with sand-tolerant succulents. I had never seen aloe in bloom and had no idea that the familiar kitchen burn remedy is likely a hummingbird magnet. 

And while there were agaves at the beach when I grew up,

I had no idea that their flower spikes are taller than any house in which I have ever lived.
Of course, the area boasts more common, close-to-the-ground things. Sand marigolds were everywhere, providing nectar for the butterflies that were still fluttering around, even at the close of the year. 

 I know that winter's just arrived, but spring can't come soon enough for me.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


As a writing teacher, I struggle with my students' struggles with revision. Too often, many of them think that revision is a matter of fixing the commas (which are of course the most important aspect of writing, followed closely by the semicolon). Every year, I point out the parts of the word, leading some brave soul to note that revision means "to see again," and, eventually, a few of them get it. Today, I had my own experience with revision.

A confession: I tend to be disorganized with objects (with the fortunate exception of student papers, which I have managed never to lose). Walking from someone else's office to mine, whatever was in my hand can vanish, even if I don't stop anywhere. Whenever we host a social gathering, the last minute scooping-up-of-stuff leads to something semi-important vanishing, at least for a while. Yesterday, sorting through boxes of scooped-up things from the last pre-sabbatical gathering, I found the good binoculars, the ones I wanted but didn't have for all the hiking I did on sabbatical. They had, of course, been in the plant window overlooking the bird feeders all last summer, but instead of going into the box of field guides that went with me to Toledo, they were buried in the guest-room closet with miscellaneous things from that corner of the living room. Sigh.

Not having had decent optics for a while, I of course had to try them out, and the feeders were busy at that moment with a titmouse, a chickadee, a female cardinal, and something I couldn't quite identify, an LBB with a lot of red. My first tentative ID was house finch, but the binoculars revealed such intricate markings that I thought the bird had to be something less common, perhaps something I'd never seen before.

This little bird had a red head and a light but noticeable white line leading back from the eye and a half-ruff around its throat. The belly bore streaks of rich brown and white, and the wings were distinctly barred in the same colors. They revealed a red patch at the base of the tail as the bird fluttered around the safflower seed feeder. He (no female songbirds around here carry that much red) was so gorgeous that I had to stand and watch until he flew away.

A check of my trusty Peterson field revealed that my first thought was correct: this little guy was a house finch, one of the Western migrants now common all over the East. It had been so long since I had really looked at one, though, that I had forgotten how beautiful this common bird is.  Note to self: take more time for revision.

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's here

The first day of winter this year was definitely winter. We woke to a dusting of snow on the ground and a wind that's kept snow whirling around all day. The last time I looked, we officially had more than a dusting, with snow predicted to keep falling into tomorrow. Winter ys icumen in, as Ezra Pound said.

As much as I love the Valley, I'm ready for sun, something we haven't seen for a week. Note to universe: sun on snow is perfectly acceptable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Return visitors

I am pleased to report that Stumpy the nearly tailless squirrel is still around.(In case you missed it, Stumpy was the subject of an earlier blog post.)  Having been away for four months, I had occasionally wondered how our somewhat-incapacitated rodent friend was doing, but today he was scampering away from the tray of shell corn, as frisky as ever.

Tha afternoon brought one of our several pairs of cardinals close to the house. The female was browsing the berries of the lonicera sempervirens near the dining room window, bringing entertainment to Mittsy the six-toed cat. The male was at the safflower feeder, further away from observing felines.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A different December

For some reason, this week my mind has been wandering back to my first December in the Mid-Ohio Valley. So far, this one has been nothing like it. In 1983, there was SNOW on Veterans Day! Okay, not much snow, but to someone who had only arrived from Florida in April, snow in what was still officially fall was enough to make me wonder what I'd gotten myself into. December was even colder.

Living in downtown Marietta at the time, I walked just about everywhere, partly because I was dubious about driving in snow on brick streets. By Christmas Eve, it seemed to me as if I were wearing everything in my closet in order to keep warm, with an enormous Doctor Zhivago-ish hooded wool cape as the top layer. Walking to a candlelight service through gently falling snow had a nostalgic appeal, but when the temperature on Christmas morning hit minus 10 (according to the Weather Underground's weather history--my memory is that it was colder than that, but I may be remembering the wind chill), staying home and eating scrambled eggs for Christmas dinner because my car had frozen had no appeal at all. But that was what I did, though I did bundle up and walk the mile or so to a friend's house a little later when the wind died down. I remember thinking at the time that I could do without another Christmas of that degree of whiteness--or cold.

And over the last twenty-nine years, we haven't had one. 1989 saw below-zero temperatures, but a glance at the weather history indicates that such cold has become an anomaly, even though our placement in USDA hardiness zone 6 indicates that most winters should see at least a few nights of 10 below. Actually, the most recent zone map, released just this year, indicates that our area is now borderline zone 7, a full ten degrees warmer than zone 6. 

I'm grateful for the decreased cold, but this degree (no pun intended) of climate change in a single human generation does not bode well for the places that we in this country have always considered the South. If north-central West Virginia is soon to have the winter temperatures of the Carolinas, what will happen to Florida?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Several soggy days

Today is my last day in Toledo. There will be a few days at the Cleveland Clinic with a relative who's having surgery, but then it's back to Parkersburg, where a new semester will soon begin. I have so fallen in love with the ecosystem variety of northwest Ohio that I feared leaving it would be a wrench, but the universe has made the transition easier by sending several days of cold rain, possibly my least favorite weather. A colleague who taught in Maumee decades ago had issued dire warnings about Lucas County, assuring us that we would hate the permanently gray skies (this colleague seems to have missed the summers entirely), and a native of the area last week responded to my asking "What's the percentage of gray days in winter?" with "about ninety percent." Given that the first snow is predicted for tomorrow night, I seem to be heading south just in time.

However, even gray days have their amusements. When we forgot to fill the squirrel feeder, one of the neighborhood rodents quickly solved the problem.
I do rather hope that fox squirrels find their way to West Virginia.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Noticed on today's walk

  • Tufted titmice have orange shading on their undersides.
  • Beech bark has a blue tone.
  • Female mallards have blue wing feathers.