Grandparents in Mouseland

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“The most exciting thing that ever happened to me,” our guide relates as we sit on a wooden terrace enjoying what’s termed as a ‘light African snack,’ “was having a rhino charge  at our truck at full speed and smash up against the front dash.”

It is a warm, breezy morning in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Mike and I have signed up (and paid extra) for a 3-hour VIP tour of this newest of Disney attractions. The Wild African Trek has had us up before dawn and in what can only be called battle gear by nine o’clock. Since then we have climbed forested paths, looked over cliffsides to watch a pod of  hippos snacking, and  crossed a swaying, gap-floored rope bridge over a half dozen (very) large crocodiles lying open-jawed in the sun.

“It was raining like mad,” our guide is saying, “and I guess the rhino thought we were poaching on his preserves.” What happened? We asked. “He stopped, we stopped, and he just walked off,” he grins. “If you are ever chased by a rhino, just stop. He figures what to do next by what YOU do. If he thinks you are not a threat, he will lose interest.”

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When we first told our friends that we were going to visit Disney World without our grandchildren, their reaction was to stare at us. “You’re kidding,” our friends exclaimed. “Disney has to be seen through a kid’s eyes.”

For many of the theme parks, this is true. Yesterday we wandered through the MagicKingdom and boarded a fast track pass to the Pirates Of the Caribbean whilst listening to the squeals of happy toddlers. Later, in an unseasonable cold evening, we ate at a restaurant where Pooh Bear and Eyore (my favorite character) came up to hug us and take photos with us. It was fun—but nostalgic fun, harkening back to days when we brought our own sons  to Mouseland some thirty five years ago.  Even when we caught our breath to see Cinderella’s Castle glowing  against the dark sky in winter silver and palest mauve, we were still caught up in yesteryear’s dream.

But the Animal Kingdom, though its rides and thrills are for youngsters, has an aura of its own. Today we have watched animals great and small both in their native habitats and free in those habitats. Giraffes, elegant and poised with their so-long necks and gentle faces, walk across the road without harm or hindrance; cheetahs lie carelessly asleep in the sun by the roadside, and a trio of rhinos feed peacefully in another corner of the vast savannah. And of course there were zebras as well.

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“Do you know,” says our guide, “that zebra mothers, when they are about to give birth, will make sure that all other zebras stay at least half a mile away? Then, when the baby comes, she will look deeply into the eyes of her newborn. That way, she imprints on it. Zebras look very much alike, you see.”

We have heard a wealth of information today, and we have seen species that are being lost as we speak in the wild. We have watched beautiful animals that have been poached or hunted until nearly extinct. We have heard about cheetahs being saved by dogs. Cheetahs, our guide tells us, were considered predators by African farmers because they fed on their herds. To counter this, Andalusian Shepherd dogs were imported to watch and round up flocks. The big dogs scared away the cheetahs and so– “It was a win-win situation and dogs saved cats from being killed off!”

We have finished our gourmet African snacks and spend a few more minutes watching a baby giraffe playing in the sun. Then we are off  again, on a truck this time, to watch elephants grazing. Elephants, we are told, are sometimes destructive because of their size. They are discouraged from marauding by—of all things—bees! “Elephants are really scared of bees. Maybe it’s because of their  ears or trunks. Bee hives help farmers by giving honey, too,” our guide remarks as the big elephant tosses dust over its great gray flank.

By the time we are finished with our morning’s adventure, we are tired and happy and wiser than we were before. For though this enormous expanse is given to fun and pleasure, it is also a place for thought and contemplation of the environment, of the richness of our planet, and of our place in that vast and forever turning circle of life.

“We don’t say goodbye, in Swahili,” we are told as we thank our guides. “We say kwaheri, which means, ‘go well.’”

Indeed.

 

Autumn’s Treasury

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I should have brought my camera today but didn’t. Words—inadequate as they are—will have to do. Not that any words, or any paint or fabric or even the catch-all lens of the camera could do justice to autumn color.

The color is at its peak, now. We are at that fragile moment when the trees are ready to display their incandescent loveliness. A wind, a rain, an hour, even—and the moment will be gone. Already, the sidewalks are littered with fallen leaves.

The sun shines behind the Japanese maple this morning, and I have to stop and look and look again and try to remember each detail. The reds in the south don’t achieve the heart-stopping scarlet that is found in northern states, but this Japanese maple surpasses anything I have seen. The sun picks out every spectrum of red—crimson, scarlet, burgundy, orange and even pink. There is the fire of rubies in these leaves and the deeper garnet shades; there is the hot blaze of firelight and the smolder of embers.

I find it hard to move on, but around the corner there are other autumn wonders. Here is a magnolia blooming cheerfully out of season, a carefree, creamy blossom framed by stiff leaves that run from green to shadowed ebony. There are roses, too, insouciant and heedless of cold nights, and a scatter of chrysanthemums that refuse to give up.

How can anyone hope to capture, never mind hold, all that this day offers? It would be wonderful if, on a cold and drear winter afternoon, I could pull out a memory and see it unfold like a panorama. Red, green, cream—and wait—here are a few trees that have not quite decided what to be. Their leaves are a mixture of oranges, yellows, reds and greens. They are taking their time about it, and I have a special empathy for them. Indecision is something I know all about!

And now I come to my favorite spot—a stop under the big tree with the yellow leaves. When I stand under this tree, I am enveloped in gold—a gold that gladdens both heart and senses. Perhaps this tree is the reason I use so much yellow in my own work—there is something about this color that conveys warmth and happiness.

Tomorrow or even later today all this may be on the wane. Leaves will fall, leaving their branches stark and bare. But even those denuded trees will have beauty, a spare elegance of line and form, and that will sustain me through the winter. Today, though, there is the treasury of autumn.

When the cold wind blows

I will remember this day

And be glad again.

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Merging a blog spot and a website…

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Yes, friends, it has been done. In the interest of consolidation, I, the greatest techno-duffer in history, have watched amazed as my two sites merged into one! People who visit my website will now be directed to my blog post—which will have the appropriate links to art, writing, and to other links. At least, this is the theory.

You are right in assuming that all this was not my doing. My talented daughter in law, Lynn, masterminded the entire operation… set it up… and then left the rest in my quaking hands. “It’s not going to be hard,” she comforted me as I stared at her like a deer in the headlights. “Just play with it and know that whatever mistakes you make can be erased!”

Perhaps ‘play’ isn’t the appropriate word. My path to techno-savvy has had many pitfalls. When I first set up my ‘Art’ link, I somehow published two identical sets of images. When I tried to correct this (i.e. delete one set of images), the computer instead made enormous images of the second set appear on the virtual page. I can swear that the beastly thing was laughing at me!  It took half an hour to finally delete and save the changes—after which I exited so quickly that the keyboard quivered.

That I have (and will) make mistakes is a given. “It will take time,” I have been told—which is an understatement if I ever heard one. So, friends who visit my new blog/website, be warned that all is not perfect but that I am working on it.

I have to admit that in comparison to working with technical matters, creating art is easy. For a piece of fiber art I need only to choose a background fabric and throw it on the floor then add and subtract suitable fabric. When all has been appliquéd to my satisfaction, I can add fine lines that will be machine embroidered! Certainly all this takes lots of time and energy, but it’s fun. Working with fabric has never made me grind my teeth or want to swear in ten different languages.

Let me introduce you to ‘Lovers,’ my latest creation. What, you don’t believe that trees can be star-crossed lovers, separated forever by an unforgiving stream? Trees are strong, ancient and wise beings who have seen humankind come and go underneath their branches. So, yes, “Lovers”—and here you can see that I am adding those fine lines to a soon to be finished work!

"Lovers"
“Lovers”

This part is really the icing on the creative cake. Much as a manuscript’s fourth draft is easy on a writer’s eyes, adding the final touches really makes a piece of art personal. Would that it were so with technical matters! And, speaking of that, it’s time to grit my teeth and  ‘play’ with my blog/web site again!

I have pressed a key

But the image disappeared!

Time to gnash my teeth!

Lovers

Lovers

Learning From the Autumn Beach

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Autumn is a seasons that wears two faces; one is warm and friendly, glorious with color and the plenty of harvest while the other brings harsh wind and  cold portents of winter to come.

It has been a busy week, and I have  longed for this walk on the beach even though today the wind is laced with bitter cold. It kicks up the sand to sting my cheeks, and it flirts with the hat that I have jammed onto my head. Ears burn, the tip of the nose quivers with a need to sneeze, and hands are wailing for gloves.

Still, the beach is beautiful. On the fringes of new dunes sea oats stand proud and tall, and the sea is so calm that waves hardly break as they roll toward the shore. The water is a steely blue unlike the summer’s translucence, turning silver only when sunshine finds a chink in the clouds. And the sand is fresh and clean…

Oops… what’s this?  I have almost stumbled into a deep rut in the sand. Now that I look around me, more  ruts crisscross the beach, turning it into a walking hazard. Trucks, I think balefully, fishermen’s trucks. The town needs money so the trucks have a right to drive on the beach and dig these mini-trenches with their wheels from September until April. Grumbling, I stumble toward the shoreline, and the bite of the wind feels as grouchy as my mood.

There is a loud screech. On my left a gray seagull is squawking, hunched over a bit of fish. He is daring the world to come and take what is his, and he viciously chases away a smaller, thinner bird that wants a bit of dinner. Gray is puffed and practically snarling—until suddenly, a much larger seagull alights next to him and begins to calmly eat the fish. Hunched, angry, squawking but frightened, Gray gives ground and shuffles away.

Pretty grim stuff—but wait, for  ahead of me have appeared three long-legged, curve beaked  birds—curlews, perhaps? They strut together, so dignified in their stilted gait that they are really comical. Their heads are close together and they appear to be conferencing about—what else? Food.

A trio of shorebirds

Are stalking ahead of me

Like the three stooges!

The curlews are not alone. Birds are everywhere. Tiny sandpipers are bustling about their business, and one little guy who has somehow lost a foot is feeding as gamely as his cousins. Gliding over the ocean, pelicans skim the water and then rise up to take their ungainly, deadly plunge for fish. Awkward they might seem on the ground but in the air and in the water they are masters. Seasons do not seem to matter for them. Nor do they seem to matter for a pair of surfboarders dressed in wetsuits they ride their waves.

“Hey, ma’am, how ya doing?” A burly fisherman shouts. Cold, I say. “Well, at least you’re moving,” he grins. Red nosed from cold, he looks so friendly  that I stop and ask him about his catch. “Nothing this morning,” he admits, “but my boy over there caught a flounder. A beauty!”

He points to a youngster in waders who, face screwed up in concentration, is thigh-deep in the cold water. “Just likes to come out here, you know?” he goes on, and I nod because I really do get it. We all come here for the magic that this ageless ocean weaves. We come for sustenance or for renewal of body and spirit. Whether we seek food or serenity matters little, really, because in the end it is the same thing.

The fisherman’s truck is parked behind him, but now I can’t begrudge him the tire tracks that score the sand. After all, sand will be wave-washed away and brought back clean and fresh. The pelicans, the surfers, the gulls and shorebirds, the fishermen and I are all a part of this autumn day… and part of this beach.

Though the wind stings raw

Those sea oats dance so bravely

To autumn’s music.

Waves at Emerald Isle, North Carolina

 

 

Turning Sixteen

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Ben turned sixteen on October 20.

Sixteen by any count is a landmark year, the year in which one can drive, get  a part time job, and begin to look toward college. It is a rite of passage year, a hopeful, busy, happy year.

Sixteen years ago when this first grandchild was born, we clustered about his crib and spun our dreams. No wishes given by Fairy Godmothers could have topped ours! We fairly swamped this tiny, sleeping being with hopes, aspirations, and good wishes. If we had our way, no evil thing would dare come near while good and happy events fairly smothered the road ahead of him. And of course I did what every doting grandmother would do—I made him a gift.

This gift was a cloth alphabet book. I scoured the fabric stores for suitable images for A (alligator) and B (butterfly) and so on down the line. Then I sat down and wrote what the letters meant and how they would form words that might transform the world. Words, I said, carried in them the history of civilization itself and a hope for the future, too, because through them could come a magical adventure that would never end. I ended my little homily with a heartfelt, ‘Bon voyage!”

All voyages begin with baby steps. Then come games of hide and seek and follow the leader and songs and stories told and retold… memory-makers, all! But years pass, a child grows, and let’s pretend are usurped by the magic of computer games,  i-pads, and cell phones.

Sixteen years—in that  young lifetime the world has turned for good— and evil. The twin towers were struck down, wars and unspeakable violence and terrible wars have stolen young lives full of promise.  Tsunami, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and political chaos continue to wreak havoc.

And yet the tired old world has seen wonders, too, kindness and integrity have risen to counteract much that is evil and sorrowful. Medical miracles abound, for look, here is a man whose face was destroyed but who has been given a successful facial transplant! Progress is being made even as I write so that a special exoskeleton can allow the paraplegic to walk again someday. Once fatal, many diseases are either curable or in check, and researchers work tirelessly to conquer others. Artists of every discipline imaginable continue to create beauty while writers tirelessly spin words into magic. So many people volunteer service and time to help those less fortunate, and disasters are followed by healing outpourings of love and help.

Technology flourishes, too. In Ben’s time, there surely will be travelers to our sister planets. And—who knows? Perhaps ships, riding the winds of space, will learn the secrets of distant stars. The diamond rings of Saturn? The moons of Alpha Centauri? Oh, it is a wondrous new world that our grandson inherits.

Of course he is not thinking about any of this. Why should he? His mind is busy with a wished-for car and  cash-flow from employment and—yes, school and college to come. His sixteenth year will be crowded with music and sports, books, studies and, of course, romance.  So his adventure continues, and we who have held those hands when he took his first steps can only watch and hope that he will be always safe and well.

Bon voyage, Ben, with love.

In this room you took

Your very first baby steps

And stood, unaided!

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Now, that’s swaggy!

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There is a new language which often leaves me scratching my head and muttering. You may have been blindsided by this new lingo, too, by a young person expostulating, “I’m not reaching Lindy’s party tonight, man. She’s one of my mains, but she’s flexing too much. Styll, right?”

If you think a translation is in order, you are not alone. In confusion I have had to seek comfort in the internet ( which is still, to my mind, a source of black magic) where I read off a number of mind-boggling new words that are used by the younger generation. In this compendium of unknown words, reach can mean you are attending an event, flex means to show off or have too much cash, and styll for some unaccountable reason means you agree with someone.

In the same context, a yute (youth) could flex by telling one of his linguistically adept peers, “Yo, I went bungee jumping and got merked. Cray-cray, eh?” To which his friend might reply, “ Hundo P, dude!  Swaggy! YOLO!”

Completely confused? Allow me to translate. Merked can mean anything from being high , tackled, knocked out, or… who knows what. Cray-cray is just what it sounds like—crazy. Hundo P simply is a contraction of hundred percent and means that you approve. Swaggy means being or having something cool. As for YOLO, this acronym  for You Only Live Once is considered the worst new word or phrase of 2012. Not that this has stopped it from being used.  Cray-cray.

I wondered how new words got into proper parlance and took refuge in the Merriam-Webster dictionary where, I was sure, sanity would prevail. The dictionary gave me a simple answer: usage gets a word into the dictionary. Editors carefully study the language that is used, diligently monitor how often a word is used. Editors scour texts for new words, for the ways existing words are now utilized, and for spellings that might vary. The size and type of a dictionary also limits the number of new words that are admitted into the hallowed halls of dictionary-dom. For instance, a large unabridged dictionary would have more room for words that have become wedged into everyday parlance.

There is also the Oxford Dictionaries Online which each month adds approximately 1,000 new entries. In 2012, omnishambles (a situation that has been mangled and mismanaged) made the ranks. So did apols, an informal variation of apologies. Some of the more interesting words were  dappy (silly,lacking concentration), grats (congratulations), and babymoon (a holiday taken by parents to be or a time after the birth with parents concentrating on bonding with the new arrival.)

Words have always seemed magical to me in that they can create worlds or demolish them with a simple sentence. So I suppose that the creation of new words for new situations can only be the result of that same sorcery. It need not be said that sorcery can both transform the bleak into the wondrous or cause a complete muddle.

Perhaps this a portent of the future. Even so, while I may appear dappy to the younger generation, I still judge them to be a terrific lot. Hondo-P!

How to understand

Words that skate across the mind

But leave no impact?

002 (1) 008 (2)

Searchers All

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The unseasonably warm weather last week (oh, yes,  change is on the wing!) found me looking for shells on the October beach. There were few shells–  the result, I suspect, of offshore dredging.  My friend, an avid shell collector, told me that she was remarking on this the other day when her young grand daughter replied, “But, Grandma, the fun is in looking.

It seems as if humans are always looking for something or other—for shells that will enchant us, for music and books that will transport us, for knowledge, for pleasure or the  jeans that will actually fit—and believe me, I know about that. When I was little, I sought the perfect toy only to discard it for a better toy. Later, like so many of my friends, I kept looking for the fairy tale ending to a perfect love.

Searching still takes up a lot of my time. That’s part of being human, I assured myself as I walked along the beach. The Search continues to be a wonderful adventure. Tireless researchers have sought and found cures for terrible illnesses; curious inventors have given us light and sound and technology through countless hours of seeking. And scientists were always on the lookout for new species.

But sometimes searching drifted into obsession, you could point out. True, there would always be people who tended to be inveterate searchers who drifted from one thing to another, always looking for the perfect ‘fit’ but never finding it. Carried to an extreme, searching could cause us to roam through jobs or relationships, always dreaming  of the next ‘right’ one and never finding the gold at the end of the rainbow.

Oh– a lovely shell!

But look, it is very small…

Best find another.

There are always goal-seekers among us, those intrepid souls who set a goal and pursue it with single minded conviction. Pretty awesome, right?  But here’s the thing—sometimes goal-seekers achieved their brass ring and then right away set off to catch another. Did they ever enjoy what they had worked so hard to attain? I’ve wondered about that.

I myself am a waffler. My searching often takes side-trips because what I am after never stays on a single path. The story I am writing or the art quilt I am constructing would suffer because I find a better idea. The project I am looking for suddenly morphs in a new direction or turn into a dead end, forcing me to seek new routes to my goal. And there are times when I have to stop and consider, because that new and better idea I just discovered meant abandoning so many other ideas, disrupting carefully laid plans…

“Excuse me!”

The dark-haired woman was standing in front of me. She was frowning. “Excuse me,” she repeated, “but have you seen my husband’s sun glasses on your walk?” I regretted that I hadn’t. “I can’t believe it,” she snorted. “This is the second pair he’s lost. He’s as blind as a bat without them. So now he gets this new pair—a really expensive pair— and what does he do? He wears them when he goes looking for shells. Of course the stupid things fall into the water and a wave takes them!”

She walked away muttering, and I watched her go thinking that this really had to be the caveat for all us. While we were out looking for that special  something, we had to be careful that we didn’t lose what’s really important along the way.

The way we travel

Can truly be beautiful…

Should we stop and look?

"Window To the Sea" watercolor

“Window To the Sea” watercolor