Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lesson From the Sun at the Bay

I don't want to die just yet. I'd like a lot more morning hugs from M, and I'd like to know H has found the love of her life, and to thank T for so loving S, and to see S get the chance to pursue her art. I'd like to watch my grandchildren grow up to find loves and passions of their own, and I'd like to see The Wayback Letters through to being published.

But if I had to, I could let go without too much disappointment, having had those fourteen days at the bay. They taught me that every day brings a glorious gift if you only pay attention to it, and that it's not so bad turning sixty.

If I'm lucky enough to live to be 100, as I hope to be, by healthy attempts at living well, I still have forty years worth of daily gifts to look forward to---now that I've learned how to receive them. Thanks be to the light of the sun. dkm

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Apology to the Bay

Written 4/26, but not posted until 4/27:

The bay water has eluded me for two weeks. It continues the chase on this my last morning here, having defied my stick of graphite at every attempt to portray it. No two observations of the water found it the same in intensity, reflection, ebb, flow, surface, depth, light, color, hue, tone, clarity, temperature, sound, movement, speed, breath, rhythm, force, or spirit. Even the things it transported were different from one day to the next, whether sea life or leaf or stick or moss or signs of human detritus, including one blue yoga mat and strap (mine).

I prided myself in the small carbon footprint of my time here. I rose and slept with the sun. I played no radio or music or television. I tried to be silent. I buried my vegetable scraps in the earth. I fed the meat scraps to the crabs. I collected my recyclables to carry back to Atlanta. I regret that my efforts were negated tenfold by that yoga mat that floated up and out of my reach on the wind and into the water. It was a stormy day, and by the time I ran for a pole to fish out the blue mat, the white capped waves had carried it several fishing docks down the sea wall.

As a vehicle for sun and wind and inspiration, the water of the bay has been a formidable companion for these fourteen days and nights. Thank you, baywater.

I'm sorry about the yoga mat . . . but the wind did it. (a reference to the great line in Denys Cazet's picture book, You Make the Angels Cry, in which young Albert tells his mother, "I told the angels I'm sorry I made them cry, but the wind did it.")

And I am sorry, Bay, that I can not describe you. dkm

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Bye, Yoga Mat

Yesterday: A host of swallows, purple martins I think, by the vivid blue of their backs in flight, arrested me again and again. They kept flying in circles, reminding me to notice the frenzied panic I was working myself into about a particular passage in chapter six that also kept going in circles and getting stuck in its own muddy tracks. It rained on and off all day.

The dark blue swallows seemed to be saying, "There's no cause for alarm. That's how it is with writing. Sometimes you have to go around in circles for a while to find what you're looking for."

Today: I woke to an early morning gale off the bay whistling in the trees and beckoning me out to the porch. The Spanish moss in every tree was whipping in all directions.

I heard the telltale papery slap of eagle wing. At eye level, in the light of dawn, my broad-shouldered companion flew right through the low clear space between the porch and the pinetree with something big in his talons. As he passed the Barbie-leg pine branch (see 4/20's post) the something dropped with a heavy thud at the base of the tree.

I'm still sorry I interrupted the eagle's breakfast, but scroll on to see what my camera found later in the grass, when it was light enough to see what had dropped.

The day was sunny and bright after yesterday's gloom. The wind stayed high, fresh, and dry, making white caps in the water of the bay all day. It blew my yoga mat right off the dock and far away. I breathed in and out. The breath of the universe took the shape of my lungs. I bent to the sun in a yoga pose.

And later still, chapter six practically wrote itself. dkm

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mary Mother of God and I'm Not Even Catholic

Today's post can only be a tribute to last night's storm over the bay. No way to describe it except to say "The lightening---my god---the lightening!" End of post.

However . . . I feel compelled to explain that the osprey comment in yesterday's post and the lightening comment of today's are both direct references to Elaine's famous line in an early Seinfeld episode in which, after describing the horrors of hell at length she finishes with ". . . and the heat---my god---the heat!"

It's one of her more memorable lines among many. I reserve it for extraordinary moments like an osprey's thrilling plunge into, or lightening's terrifying extravagance over, the Bay of St. Mary de Galvez. dkm

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fine Fine Day

I finally added the photo to 4/20's post about the Barbie leg pine branch, if you're interested.

For today's entry:
It's a fine day in the life of a birder when at 10:30am two male scarlet tanagers, brilliant in their red, cavort in the bare limbs of a hickory tree not ten yards away, and later---after a good day's work at her computer---she sees a large heron, likely a great blue, fly slowly across the sunset parallel to the surface of the water with the aerodynamic silhouette that only a heron can make---neck folded back against body, long beak leading, wings wide and bent, straight legs stretched horizontally behind---to slice the orange backdrop of cloud and redhot ball of sun exactly in half---and neither one is the single-most significant sighting about which she chooses to write.

Such was the day this birder had yesterday---the day the bald eagle woke her up. And still she has not mentioned a mysterious episode with a domestic black cat or the luck she had with the revisions of chapter six---or even the beautiful poem a friend sent.

So today---already today---I rose @ 6:00am, made coffee, set up chair & binoculars & camera on the porch, propped open the screen door, and was rewarded by my bald eagle, within thirty seconds of sitting down, cruising low and slow over the bay. I could only hear the minimal splash in the water, because the large bush at the base of the pine tree blocked my view, but sure enough, immediately after the splash, rose the eagle to his favored perch in the pine.
Assuming the bobbing of his head was the swallowing of his catch, I was thrilled to catch it myself on camera. dkm

p.s. I finished the above entry in my morning journal at 7:30am. By 8:30 I had written this in the top margin of the page:

An osprey---my god, I think it's an osprey---just settled into topmost needles of the pinetree with a clear fluty call---from there to fly down, hover momentarily over the water, and plunge feet first into the bay with an enormous splash. As it flew away it shook itself like a dog after a bath. Roger Tory confirmed the osprey identification. Black body, whitish belly, white in wings when opened, long heavily feathered legs. Definitely not my eagle, though I thought at first it was.

And just now, before leaving for town to post this blog, a smallish bird with greenish belly swooped down to snatch a tiger swallowtail butterfly from the air in the path right in front of me. This place is a backyard spectator's paradise. I will almost be relieved to get home where I don't have so much to choose from! But no, the nestling bluebirds are waiting for me there. dkm

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wake-up Call

Who's at the gate? Came the creak again and again. Who's there? I wasn't afraid. I only wondered. I opened my eyes. It was 6:38 a.m. Again came the call of the rusty gate. My eagle!

I tossed back the covers and stumbled, pre-coffee, to open the door. There he was. Calling from his favored pine branch. Waiting.

He opened his wings. Welcome, he might as well have said. He folded them up again, crouched, leaned toward the bay, opened wide and lifted off, ever so slowly. His wings whispered, "Follow me, and don't forget to read Graeme Gibson today." "Right," I answered.

I had intended to write about the ever-changing nature of the bay water this morning, but a bald eagle woke me up. dkm

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It All

Maybe it all has to do with the sun. The light of the sun. The heat of the sun. The energy, the spirit, the power of the sun.

While I'm at the bay, I sit on the end of the dock every morning and breathe. And every morning some aspect of the sun presents itself. Often it's a sensation beyond the spectrum of the written word, at least beyond my grasp of the spectrum, and on those days I choose something else to write about.

Sometimes it's a physical phenomenon that can be described in word only, not in reality. Like today. Today and every day, if there isn't a heavy cloud cover, when I look into the water in the same direction the sun is pointing---that is, with the sun square at my back---I see in the water, radiating out from an epicenter I can NOT see, actual beaming bands of light, in straight lines---like those in a child's drawing of the sun. Each radiating beam has a different intensity of light or shadow, and the bands don't ripple with the water, as the intersecting strings of refracted light do. They are simply there. Steady. Stable. Solid. Untouchable. Unshiny. Not unlike the rays you sometimes see passing through clouds---misty and grayish, but flat against the surface of the water, or just under it---I can't tell which. They widen and disperse outward from an unseeable center to an unseeable end in a radius of 180 degrees.

As I search for words to describe what I see, the shadow of my bald eagle companion moves over the array. I take up the binoculars to watch the eagle fly. His wings pump at a steady pace, propelling him with force, head down. He doesn't once stop pumping to soar. He flies fast in the light that passes through the sky. I feel like a child watching a helium balloon. But the eagle disappears in less time. dkm

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lesson From a Pine Tree

The lowest branch on the pine tree from which the bald eagle surveys the bay baffles me. Not the branch itself as much as the joint of the branch where it originates from the trunk. It's a branch-joint like no other, in that it is not the usual upward sprouting V-shaped variety, but a ball-and-socket sort of arrangement.

Though I'm sure it can not, it gives the appearance of being able to pivot, like one of Barbie's legs, to the other side of the tree---as if, were I strong enough, I could swing it around in a half arc, up across and down again to point in the opposite direction.

I wonder what act of nature so injured this branch at its base, and at its colossal will to keep on growing despite the setback it must surely have suffered. dkm

Monday, April 19, 2010

Humble Birthright

I read online that a lizard's greatest strength and protection against danger is its visual acuity. If that be true, why did the subject of yesterday's blog post have to search so long for its door in the ground? It looked to be more of a trial-and-error-by-feel proposition.

Maybe this was a particularly nearsighted specimen. But if it couldn't find its own doorway within an eighteen-inch radius, how would it ever know if a hawk above had an eye on it? I would have guessed, after yesterday's observation, that its coloring and markings were a stronger defense, allowing it to go unseen---that and random dumb luck---for isn't a lizard's one great purpose on earth to provide food for neighbors higher up the chain? It's the most humble of birthrights to be sure---to hatch and grow and live to be eaten by a hawk.

I'm reminded of last year's observation in this same location of a red-shouldered hawk that plucked a hapless green lizard from the grass beside me---and of this quote, which I keep above my writing desk for reassurance that I'm not wasting my time:

"How can they say my life is not a success? Have I not for more than sixty years found enough to eat and escaped being eaten?" Logan Pearsall Smith


Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Life of a Lizard

A lizard sat in the sun. Yellow and black stripes ran the 6-inch length of its back and tail---the sides of its neck and belly were sky blue. It did nothing to catch my attention, being almost perfectly camouflaged in the sandy soil, dry grass, and bits of gray blue Spanish moss that litter the ground. My eyes just fell on it somehow.

I watched it for some time. It didn't move much, except for an occasional change of position. Then all at once it made a purposeful beeline for another area in the grass, about ten feet from where it had been. There, it scurried around in fits and starts as if looking for something in the sand. A few fast steps in one direction. Stop short. Look around. Another few steps in a different direction. Stop. Look. Listen. It repeated this pattern many times, looking more frantic with each scurry, until it looked quite deranged, actually. It went on so long I was about to tire of watching. Then as fast as it started, the search ended, and the fellow disappeared vertically into a lizard-sized hole in the sand.

Was that it? The poor thing was trying to find its doorway all that time? If I had to go through as much to find my way home, I might never leave. Lucky a human was sitting nearby or this little reptile might have become lunch for a hawk---or my bald eagle. All that movement surely destroyed the lizard's own camouflage. A lose-your-door, lose-your-life sort of arrangement. Glad I'm not a lizard. dkm

Saturday, April 17, 2010


A writing retreat of silence and solitude. Hardly. It's far from silent and I'm certainly not alone. Between the companionship of the trees, the calls of the birds, the tap of the woodpeckers, the eagle and hawk sightings, the ever-changing laps of the baywater, the leaping out of the mullet, the hatching of the jellyfish, the creeping of the crabs, the puffing up of the lizards, the purring of the wind, my steps in the dry grass, the beating of birdwings, the waving of the leaves, the drooping of the Spanish moss, the rising and setting of the sun and moon, the passing of the clouds, the late night booms over the bay, whatever they are, I can begin to understand why native American people didn't speak much. They were so busy watching, listening, interpreting. dkm
p.s. If you're interested, I've added photos to yesterday's post about the live oak tree and to April 13's post about the bald eagle.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Of Moss and Limb

A splendid old tree keeps me company at the bay while I write. The owner of the house refers to her with a feminine pronoun so I will too. She is a live oak I think---a mostly dead live oak, riddled with

woodpecker holes and all hung with spanish moss, yet full of life.
Aside from the variety of woodpecker species she now supports, she has likely been home to countless birds and insects across her lifespan. I'd love to know how old she is. She has lived through quite a few hurricanes, of that I am sure. She has only three branches left that still grow green leaves. Her broken dead boughs make a striking and statuesque silhouette against the sky.

She bows to every sunset with humility and reverence. I've taken hundreds of photos but not one of them breathes like she does in the act of letting the sun down. Her thick curved trunk is split and rotting inside, home to any number of creatures. Last year in late May, a swarm of bees made honey inside her trunk. What a rare gift to have naturally occurring honeybees not farmed in factory built hives. I see no sign of them this year. Too early? Here's hoping they return.

What is that growing inside the split in her trunk? Last year the morning sun shone through the split, but this year it is blocked by some grotesque sort of bark like growth. I'm afraid to reach inside to touch it. It is covered with bark, but shaped nothing like any part of a tree trunk. It's a roundish billowing hump-like thing, yet looks solid and firm, like hardened lava, but the color and texture of bark. A final valiant effort to heal her wounded soul? A cancerous growth? Something else altogether?

She has lost at least one large branch since last year, I assume in a windstorm. I miss the growing possum-shaped moss that hailed me from that branch in my past two visits. On the remaining stub of this branch now sits a pair of African Gray parrots, rendered in moss. As I worked on on my revisions on the screened porch today, my bald eagle friend, in flesh and feather, landed on an upper limb of the tree---and later, a striped tailed hawk. She is an ever changing picture frame, this tree.

Full of dignity and generosity in her dying, she lends courage to anyone who will accept it. dkm

You can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The bald eagle flew across my path thrice this morning---every time close enough for me to hear the papery shuffle and whir of its wings. Twice it soared over the bay when it left my tree. Once it cried its rusty-gate cry.

I also got to know a kingfisher and its loud dry rattling call today---saw its crested head and its vertical dive into the bay for a snack.

At least three species of woodpeckers frequented the large dead tree between the back porch and the bay---definitely a pileated, several smaller ones that look like downy or hairy, can't tell which, and a mystery species that has a solid brown body and dark red head. Except for its brown body it looks and pecks and circumnavigates the tree in every way woodpecker, though I can't find it in the identification guides.

And a new prologue arrived this morning on the dock, already cut from whole cloth.

One could not expect more of a day. dkm

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Story Fix, Jelly Fish, & Eagle Eye

Beseeching the network of bent sun rays in the shallow baywater for writing inspiration again today, I found it, and something else.

First, the sticking place in the 8th draft of the 1st chapter got unstuck, as if by flash of insight from the white hot intersections of light.

Else, hundreds of transparent organisms appeared in the water that could likely be identified by experienced seafarers, not me. For lack of a better guess, they looked like baby jellyfish, the size of a half-dollar, the color of wet tissue paper. They changed shape in slow amebic-like patterns. The first two on which I hard-focused, for they were camouflaged at casual glance, were shaped like butterflies, with a definite interior vein-like structure. Their shapes changed as I watched---sometimes into a stubby tube with one end closed, the other open like tulip petals. Then the petals opened and split into two halves, now like the roots of a giant tooth, until the roots curled together like pinchers, then into a round flat disc, to an oval leaf, to a big coffee bean, now a tiny mexican hat or candle on a round plate, now an asymmetrical UFO, now Saturn with ring, now a symmetrical snow angel, now a butterfly again. They were all moving against the direction of the ripples. Baby jellyfish, just hatched, headed toward open sea?

Came another gift. Yesterday's eagle returned to the same branch for a longer visit today. It screeched like a rusty gate when it landed, not a pleasant creak---a herky jerky one. Binoculars revealed a downy tuft of white feathers barely attached through the dark breast feathers, floating with the eagle's movements. Most certainly a young eagle, still losing its downy feathers, already quite large. Maybe its voice is not yet fully developed? Its eagle eye was frightening in the binoculars. I wiggled my foot, attracted its attention, then feared for my life in the long moments before it flew away over the bay with a rattly whir. dkm

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Visit From an Aerie

Hours later, on the same day of the intersecting lines of refracted sunlight: As yet, no writing inspiration for current manuscript, but I'm not the least bit discouraged. That's because, moments ago, a bald eagle flew into my day---into the pine tree not twenty yards from here---so close I didn't need binoculars.

A bald eagle! It landed on a bare branch midway up the tree. It folded its wings with some effort. It settled. It surveyed. It stepped sideways along the branch to a slightly higher perch, still relatively low. It tore at the bark of the branch with its enormous, and I do mean enormous, yellow beak. I heard the beak raking across the branch---saw bits of bark falling to the ground. I didn't breathe. It spread its wings and hopped to a higher more open place on the branch in the sun. I had an unobstructed view of its lean white head, its broad brown shoulders, its thick feathery legs, its massive yellow talons. From there it peered around in all directions for long moments.

Presently, it crouched and leaned forward. It opened its wings to a full spread, then lifted off and away, in no hurry. I could see its ragged belly feathers, could hear its wing feathers rattle against each other, could see its yellow claws hanging in limbo. As it crossed in front of me its pure white tail flashed in the sun.

A mesmerizing visit. A soul-stirring exit. A fine trade for writing inspiration on this day.

Coincidentally, my home writing office on the top floor of my house is named "The Aerie," after an aunt's college campus office which she called "The Eagle's Nest." That same aunt is the model for the quirky Aunt Viney in the story I'm here to revise. dkm

Pinpoints of Light

On a solitary writing retreat far from home: It's shocking what little I know about all things ocean or bay, born and reared, as I was, in the middle of Kansas. I had few childhood experiences of watching or noticing the natural phenomena of large bodies of water. When a child sees new things she accepts them as they are, each one another thing to learn about the world of new things to learn---one more memory to add to her growing cache. To attend the same phenomena as an adult, without the backdrop of childhood exposure, is to be visited with an edge of exhilaration that may not have happened in childhood. With gratitude for this, I sit on "the dock of the bay" and pay close attention.

This morning the water of the bay, just two feet deep, and crystal clear under the fishing dock where I sit, ripples and laps around the dock and against the rocks, bending the sun's rays, causing them to show up on the sandy bottom as an undulating net of lines and strings. The effect is to make the bottom appear covered with large flat rocks edged with thin bright-orange rings of light. Where the strings intersect, an intense sparkle reflects back up through the water, each one a spot of hot white light among a million such spots, burning into my aging memory cache. I hope these spots translate into writing inspiration later today. dkm

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Life Goes On, Bla! (Beatles)

I've been watching one leaf---one brown and curled and brittle oak leaf that clings alone to its branch long after the others of its generation dropped away. After my posts of last Nov 4 & 6, in which I pondered the significance of the life cycle of just one leaf relative to the millions of leaves that live and die and return to the earth in season, I began to wonder about the exact moment any leaf lets go of its parent branch to take the only and fatal ride of its life. Is it the relative health of a leaf that determines when it falls? Is it random chance? Is it the angle at which it hangs against the wind? Is it the time lapsed since it emerged? How do some leaves manage to cling to their branches long after others have let go? Does the leaf let go, or does the parent tree force it off?

The huge oak tree in question does not dispense its dry leaves at once, or even within a week or two weeks, but lets them drop in a gradual trickle throughout the winter. Many of its leaves can and do endure high winds, cold rain, and hard freezes. Each storm brings down more leaves, and fewer remain on the tree, yet remain they do, all winter.

Noticing this, I became curious to discover which would be the very last leaf to fall. By March, when only a few single leaves were left on the tree, I began to check daily on the one that hung nearest my observation point on the deck. Now, in early April, life goes on. New leaf buds have swollen, opened, grown to the size of a racoon's hand, and darkened from lime to green, nearly hiding last year's brown leaf of choice. Still it hangs. Still it spins. Still it does not let go. This is one tenacious leaf. dkm

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Inconspicuous Bluebird Habits

The chickadees never came back after storming the bluebird nest. Whatever that was about, the quiet bluebirds have prevailed. To observe their comings and goings requires careful watching, though. They are nothing like the boastful house wrens about their nest. Perhaps because they are less aggressive, bluebirds must also be less conspicuous. I like that. The Quakers and the Mennonites of the bird world. They call no attention to themselves, and live their peaceful lives without rancor.

All last week (Mar 28-Apr 3)both bluebirds came and went from the house silently at intervals, often perching nearby---she, looking quite fat at the beginning of the week. Noticing that she got thin again by week's end, I'm guessing she laid her eggs throughout the week. Today, after my four-day absence in Savannah w/family, I see his blue back at the house often. He comes to the doorway with a morsel in his mouth and either enters to stay briefly, or only pokes his head in before flying off. She often sits at length with head poking out of doorway, and sometimes leaves for short times. She is certainly egg-sitting. Wish I had nerve to open the house to count the eggs when I know they are both gone. I'm afraid they won't come back if they see me investigating too closely.

If the eggs were all laid by April 4 (Easter Sunday) I may be lucky enough to be here for the day of the fledge. Two weeks for incubation and hatching. Two more weeks for feeding nestlings. By my calculations they won't fledge until May 1st or later. Halleluia. I return from a two week writing retreat on April 26th. Fledge day is nothing less than thrilling. I don't want to miss it. dkm