Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Seeking Astonishment

Brown pelicans by the hundreds rest, squat, stand, wait on the distant sandbar that emerges from the ocean only at low tide. Occasionally the pelicans stretch their wings and throat pouches, fly from one spot to another, depart from or arrive in small or large groups on the sandbar that looks to be about half a mile out but is probably further. Too far for photo.

Other shorebird species have gathered there as well, feeding on the plethora of tasty morsels to be found on the temporarily exposed ocean floor. A willet flies from there to here, landing near enough to the barrier rocks on which I sit . . .

. . . wading long enough to be worth digging out a camera, blurry though the photo would turn out to be. 

One could never guess by his ordinary brownness what striking black and white wing bars the willet exposes in flight. His spectacular bill seems interesting enough. Yet his hidden wing bars are an additional reward for those who sit long enough to spy them.

No people venture out to the sandbar, one of the few places they don't go, here at the South Beach of Tybee Island, GA— partly because it's too far for a casual walk through treacherous tide pools . . .

. . . partly due to fear, like mine, of not being able to get safely back when the tide returns and buries the route under ten feet of strong currents, so say the signs.

I'm here on a writing retreat with a group of six friends—writers and painters—among us, one hired chef. We call ourselves Inkfingers. Not a lot of ink has passed my fingers on this fourth day of eight.  Mostly reading, walking, enjoying the company of like-minded friends, and meditating by the ocean.

L to R: Carla, Sheila, Deb, Kaaren, Riki, minus Chef Lil.
We gather early each morning for a literary reading and to proclaim our creative goals for the day, then return for happy hour to share our findings. I've come mostly to this southern tip of the island, to wait with the pelicans for new inspiration. Few people make it this far from the hotels at the top of the island—evenso, too many for my liking. It's hard to find enough silence and solitude for deep writing on such a popular beach. No wonder the pelicans and their friends and relations congregate on the sandbar far away.

Today I'm filled with a breathless desire to spread wing and lift across the water, leaving behind the unknown beach walkers and bathers who have just as much right to be here as I do, who are undoubtedly intensely interesting people, who might be seeking the same astonishment I'm hoping to find. dkm

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fast-moving Tortoise

I don't know what kind of tortoises they are, or how they came to live at Black Pines Animal Sanctuary, but most of the residents there are rescued from misguided captors who tried to own exotic animals in places where they cannot thrive in good health or happiness. So whatever the early history of these tortoises, they are lucky to be at Black Pines now, and for the rest of their lives. 

When we visited, at least, they were having a pretty good day. 


In the heat of the moment he toppled onto his back and couldn't right himself. She tried her best to flip him over, but was unsuccessful. What sweet display of tenderness for her best beloved, I thought. The keeper intervened, explaining that a tortoise will suffocate if stranded too long on its back.

 Judging from the high speed chase that followed the rescue, I may have misinterpreted the she turtle's motives for helping her mate. This is her chasing him, not the other way around. Looks more like she's thinking, "You better finish what you started, you bastard." dkm 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bengal Stare

Never mind the fence. To be on the receiving end of a bengal tigress's predatory focus at close range is a thing of fear I had not expected to know in this good life. It wasn't actually me she was interested in, but my six-year-old grandson, Nick, who hid behind me once he caught on to what was happening. The attention of this tiger — taut, twitching, and intent on Nick's every movement — was like that of a domestic cat stalking small prey, but the size and sharply defined stripe of her physique were enough to knock that comparison right out of the park. The enormity of her head alone was breathtaking. And her eyes, good grief, the laser-like focus of her bronze-colored eyes! I could not look away.

We were visiting the Black Pines Animal Sanctuary in Albion, Indiana, a rescue and refuge center for displaced and captive-raised exotic animals. The young intern who was our tour guide remained calm and unbothered as she explained that captive tigers will sometimes focus on children when they can't hunt in the wild. With only three feet and a metal mesh fence (to be fair, it was heavy metal :-) between us and that big cat's stare, I could feel the proverbial adrenalin rush. 

Looking back, I'm astonished by my own sense of protectiveness for Nick in that moment. I remember pressing my arms around him behind my back, honestly feeling prepared and willing to throw myself on top of him if the tiger lunged, however unlikely the possibility. Getting out a camera never once crossed my mind. No matter. The image of those alert eyes trained on small Nick is permanently burned to memory, giving new meaning to the song title, "The Eye of the Tiger." dkm

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Why Does the Chicken Cross the Road?

To lay an egg. My daughter and daughter-in-law, who live in a pretty little brick house in the tiny rural town of Wolflake, Indiana, had told me about their neighbor's hen, but the story didn't really take, until I saw it for myself, while visiting with grandchildren. I had thought it was a one-time occurrence, but turns out it happens daily, and has been going on for more than a month.  Some time during every day, the hen escapes her own fence, marches across the street into Hannah and Lisa's yard, settles into the same corner against their house, and lays one enormous egg. Deed done, she cackles and marches back home. So far, she has given them over three dozen eggs, for which their good neighbors will accept no payment.


 Why DOES she do this? She has a perfectly lovely place for laying eggs in her own yard, which seems to suit her yard mates just fine. Is she smarter or not as smart as the other chickens? Is it simply that she, like me, craves silence and solitude in a busy chaotic world? Perhaps to seasoned raisers of laying hens this is not unusual behavior. Still, it is a remarkable thing, made more so by the size of her eggs. 

Too large for standard egg carton
One egg, double yoke, fills entire ramekin

It's a surprising and special phenomenon for my city grandchildren, too. When ten-year-old Makayla collected one of the eggs immediately after it was laid, I thrilled to hear her catch her breath and whisper, "It's warm."

The neighbors haven't named their hens, but Hannah and Lisa call this one Red, after the cook on their favorite TV show, Orange is the New Black, who said in a memorable episode, "All I wanted to do was eat a chicken that was smarter than other chickens, and absorb its power."

I'm hoping to absorb Red's creative energy, having eaten her eggs. dkm

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Perfect Parents

A pleasure and comedy I did not know to anticipate today was to sit on a backyard bench with my six-year-old grandson observing a pair of parent housewrens feed their young in the new house on the old dogwood trunk all covered with ivy. Pleasure because of the magic, the wonder, and the mystery such observations are to me. Comedy because the experience was none of that to Nick.

Alone on the bench I'm thinking it's a scene picturesque, sublime, edifying, enlightening, thrilling . . . any number of comparable adjectives. I want to share the moment. I call Nick to come watch with me. We sit quietly, waiting together for the next lovely instant when one or the other of the parents brings a morsel of food just right for its nestling wren. I find it comforting to hear the tiny helpless creatures cry when their parents arrive, then quiet immediately when fed, not unlike human babes in arms. I say so to Nick. He doesn't answer. I whisper, "Here she comes. Here she comes!" Sharp intake of breath. "See? She has a worm for her babies. Listen! Listen! Ahhh! Isn't that just the sweetest thing? They're perfect parents. They know exactly what their children want. Just like your mommy and daddy."

Nick jerks his head around to stare at me. He says, "Omi! They're screaming, like NUTS! They're fighting over WORMS! Are you kidding me? That is NOTHING like us."

I see his point. Some day he'll see mine. dkm


Friday, May 9, 2014

A Bookish Decatur Fairytale Come True

It began in  2010, when I first saw a Little Free Library on nearby Wilton Drive and envisioned one in my yard. The registered number of that LFL was #838.

In May, 2012, my friend Kaaren and I saw a doll house on her neighbor’s curb, discovered it was up for grabs, dragged it home, and asked my husband to convert it to a Little Free Library for our yard. Little did we know we had set in motion a string of events that would eventually capture the imagination of all our friends and neighbors.

Ode to the Mystery

on Pinetree Drive
                               ~Debby Miller  

1.  A dollhouse, outgrown and discarded,
From Burlington to Pinetree was carted.
            Intended to be
            A library free,
Right away, the new owner got started.

2. It would be the best birthday gift ever.
His wife would so love the endeavor.
            He’d build a new roof,
            Add a door, waterproof,
To keep her books safe from the weather.

Six months later, the unimproved dollhouse was still in the garage . . .

3. Alas, the great plan had a hole.
For his schedule was out of control.
            Too soon came the date.
            Her gift would be late.
But at least he could mount it on pole.

So, in November 2012, on the eve of her birthday . . .

4. He worked by the light of the moon.
It was worth it to hear her croon.
            “A Little Free Library?
            A gift extraordinary!
And I know you will finish it soon.”

5. But the weeks, they came and they went.
His time by his job was well-spent.
            Then one day sublime,
            In the fullness of time,
A small change became evident.

By now it was January 2013 . . .

6. First—a tiny table and chair.
The mystery was, “Who put it there?”
            We questioned our friends.
            All leads were dead-ends.
So, how did it come, and from where?

7. Soon a miniature cupboard appeared.
Still, nobody volunteered.
            More pieces showed up,
            Nobody fessed up,
But at each new arrival, we cheered.

8. A fireplace, a bed, and a stove,
Pieces tucked into every alcove.
            A bunny, if you please,
            And a pet Siamese,
Became part of the treasury trove.

9. An easel with original art!
A piano for performing Mozart!
            You were ever so clever.
            We kept hoping, however,
That your secret you soon would impart.

10. One morning the windows had curtains.
We had to find out now, for certain.
            Your ID, kept hazy,
            Is driving us crazy!
How long can you keep up this flirtin’?

One piece at a time, across seven months . . .

11. Your wit simply can’t be outdone.
Your game was tremendously fun.
            From unfinished small house,
            To full furnished doll house,
No question, you hit a home run.

Dollhouse on pole
A closer look

Elfin kitchen
The white bunny showed up on Easter morning

Elf OfficeNotice the cut sticky pads to keep the furniture from blowing away 

Elf bedroom
complete with corner fireplace and custom handmade curtains

Even an artist's studio

with easel and original painting of

 a giant face peeking in the window.

July 2013, seven months after the first chair had appeared, it was time. . .

12. The dollhouse would soon be replaced,
With a library for readers with taste.
            We had finally hired
            An architect, retired,
To finish the job, post haste.

13. When he came to remove it from view.
Little Library was long overdue.
            It was taken away,
            And the very next day.
On the pole came a sign, said “Boo hoo!”

Passersby asked what happened to the house . . .

14. The neighbors had watched it evolve.
Now we all boo-hooed the dissolve.
           But with our thanks, fare thee well,
           And a story to tell,
Of your housekeeping duties, be absolved.

15. One hope remains from the fact
That you don’t have your furniture back.
            We’ll return it toot sweet,
            If you appear on the street,
To join us for wine and a snack.

That was the limerick I hung on the empty pole, minus the photos and commentary between verses, in hopes that the mystery benefactors would bite . . . 

16. Continuing on with the history
Of the ongoing Pinetree mystery,
            With the limerick still up,
            We went out for sup
To mark our forty-second anniversary.

July 24, 2013 . . .

17. We dined in a restaurant from Rome.
It was late when we returned home.
            When we switched on the light,
            Right there in plain sight,
Was a little note taped to my phone.

18. It might have said, “Mystery solved!”
But for us it was still unresolved.
            A note in the kitchen?
            Now that’s just bewitchin’
Does this mean our family’s involved?

19. Was our daughter the mystery maker?
We simply could not wait to wake her.
            She woke in a fuzz,
            But she knew who it was!
Of the note she was just the caretaker.

20. Her story was this: Came a knock.
It was just after seven o’clock.
            Two folks we don’t know
            Gave a friendly hello,
And at last, they were ready to talk.

21. But alas, we were out for the night.
The timing was not yet quite right.
            Folk artist was he,
            A writer was she,
They would just leave their cards and take flight.

22. But not without bidding us well,
With a promise their story to tell,
            Would I come the next day
            Just a few blocks away?
This time I should ring their doorbell.

The next day, with a touch of trepidation, I drove to the Adair Street address on their business cards after seven months of wondering . . .

23. The house was well kept, and disarming.
The people inside, truly charming.
            In three minutes flat,
            We were deep into chat
Of the mystery from both sides, heartwarming.

Meet Bill Kaiser
and Barbara Allen

24. From careers, they both have retired.
And both are creatively wired.
            You can tell it by looking.
            Their home is quite cooking
With orginal art, well inspired.

25. His art fills the house and the yard.
Hers comes out in words, like a bard.
            And it’s beautiful art . . .
            Good taste from the heart . . .
The kind one can highly regard.

26. Their charm, it was hard to resist.
Their energy not to be missed.
            From the start, did they know
            How their story would grow?
Their side of the picture was this:

27. He had spied the small house every Sunday
On his way to men’s breakfast, and one day,
            He fancied himself
            As a dollhouse elf,
And from then on, each Sunday was fun day.

28. Their identity, finally, I knew.
But my family would want to know too.
            I invited them back
            To our house for a snack,
The whole story again to review.

29. Then of course our friends wanted to meet
The elves who had captured the street.
            At their house, a meal hearty,
            At our house, a big party,
We planned for the gather and greet.

30. Meantime the dollhouse had been changed
To a Little Free Library, and arranged
            With an honorary room,
            For the people with whom,
We have since in new friendship engaged.

31. The little room got its design
from dollhouse consultant friend Lina.
            And of course, builder Paul,
            Who pulled it all
Together with craftsmanship fina.

The Kaiser Allen Reading Room

32. New Year’s Eve for the party was cited.
All the people involved were invited.
            With a blanket wrapped tight
            Round the house till midnight,
Oh, what cheers the unveiling excited!

33. More questions were asked, bright and bold,
As both sides of the story were told.
Then come to find out,
With a murmur and shout,
Barbara too, had a limerick, Behold!


       Dollhouse Poem
                ~Barbara Allen

We love our Decatur downtown
The courthouse, the squirrels, up and down
but for a daily trip,
we tended to skip
We'd much rather drive around.

Using Pinetree saved us a lot,
It got us from West Ponce to Scott
To get Chinese or curry,
always in a hurry
we usually took the short cut.

One day a brand new dimension
A DOLLHOUSE, it caught our attention
Raised on a pole
No front, but a whole
house, and a porch/deck extension.

Oh, goody, we said on our way
Someone is going to display
A new place, all shiny
A house, but more tiny
we'll happily track this each day.

But weeks and weeks went by
And still no one would try
To put in a buffet
a sofa, a tea tray
We thought we could hear the house cry.

Bill just couldn't stand the bare
So one day he added a chair.
An artist at heart
He was glad to start
The furnishing with his own flair.

Each Sunday he tried to be sneaky
Although the rain made it quite leaky.
He'd put in a hutch,
a table, not much
Now hooked, he swung by there weekly.

It would require
a place for a fire.
then add something pretty
a little white kitty.

For Easter a bunny
would really be funny.
a lamp and a stool
would look pretty cool.

But all good things must come to an ending
So one day we drove 'round the bending
Did it disappear
Our dollhouse, so dear?
Is this it, or is more a-pending?

We found out the rest of the tale
A project, neglected, went stale.
Without detection,
We'd changed its direction.
Small LIBRARY is coming, all hail!

After the party, we waited until Springtime, April 2014, when . . .

34. Husband Moe took on a big role.
By building a sturdy new pole.
            He and son-in-law Thad
            Worked together like mad
To cement the new house in the hole.

35. Two doors on the front had new hooks,
Scott mapped out a garden for looks.
            Next, Thad prepped the soil.
            The plants were my toil.
Then at last it was ready for books.
Son-in-law Thaddeus Nathaniel
36.  The only thing left yet to do
For our Little Free Library new
            Was order the lumber
            for our registered number
Six thousand seven hundred twenty-two!

Architect and Builder
Paul Buechele

Tiled upstairs patio
with stained glass window
created by Paul

Me with Kaaren Nowicki,
the friend who helped rescue
the dollhouse from Burlington Rd.

Neighbor Tom McHaney
Prime Suspect

Friends Pearl McHaney
and Sara Weigle
Suspects  2 and 3
Granddaughter Makayla
Suspect #4

Grandson Nickolas
Suspect #5

Neighbor Clark Weigle 
piled on by adding a tiny artist's canvas 
painted by his son James.

The Criminal Element
Nextdoor neighbors, Frank and Maureen Glass,
had planned to outline a body and add yellow
crime tape, but we took the dollhouse down too soon.

Thank you, Bill and Barbara, for bringing such fun to our Decatur community of good neighbors, friends and book-lovers

More information about Little Free Libraries can be found at: