July 31, 2008

All the buzz

A couple of weeks ago this crazy little squirrel started hanging out at the condo. I have never, in fifteen years, seen a squirrel here. Neither had anybody else. A friendly little beast, he would follow me, would follow anybody, up and down the hall. Some of the women freaked out. He would follow you home and run up your screen door. Look you quizzically in the face. He jumped on Dan's shoulder.

We concluded that he must have been somebody's lost pet, so frank was his trust. Barbara fed him almonds. His behavior wasn't rabies-peculiar or erratic. Just unaccountably friendly.

Finally he followed a woman to the laundry room; Phyllis ran home screaming and refused to leave her apartment. She called me. I told her I had seen the squirrel and wasn't sure what, if anything, I could do, or could be done. By now I was feeling a bit protective of the little guy, while realizing that of course he couldn't stay. Phyllis was undaunted. She began making a series of phone calls, first to the police, then to various agencies, all leading nowhere.

Eventually she got in touch with her nephew who came by with a squirrel cage with a trip door. He brought peanuts with him. Sam, for that is what Barbara had named him, was an easy lure. Rich put the cage down on the lawn, threw in some peanuts, and Sam came running. Seconds later little Sam was in the bag. Rich fell in love with him. He took Sam home and turned him loose in his back yard.

Omens sometimes accompany significant events. The next day, on Monday morning, July 21, the day before Kate's shout started the avalanche that was to collapse the grand illusion that was Nicky Cooper, I picked up the phone at my condo.

"Bees, what bees?"

"Hundreds of them."


"On the fourth floor."

Convinced they were probably just a few paper wasps, multiplied by geriatric
anxiety and myopia, I went to look.

Bees. Hundreds of bees. At one point while I was watching, a piece of the swarm simply fell off and dropped at my feet on the sidewalk like a chunk of melted snow.

Dan came out for a look.
"Unbelievable," he said.

Somebody, we supposed, should do something. I'm an officer on the condo board. I picked up the phone and started making calls. It didn't take long to locate
beemaster Keith. The apiary office of the state environmental agency knew him. So did our local exterminator. "We don't kill bees," he said, when I took him up to the roof to show him the swarm.

He brought up a bee box and quickly began loading bees, who seemed all too happy to be loaded, onto the blocks. Then he settled in to watch the rest of the swarm slowly migrate boxward. "Why do they like our rain gutter?" I wanted to know. "The queen." said Keith, a man of few words. 

Suddenly, he was reaching into the swarm with his bare hand.

"Here she is," he said.

Gingerly placing the royal one in a special capsule, he returned her to the box, and to the company and ministrations of her subjects. The bees would be transfered to Keith's bee farm.

He told me that he'd come back that night to pick up the bees. I watched them stream, flit, and saunter into the bee box. It would take a couple of hours. "They know where their home is now," he said.

July 27, 2008

July 26, 2008

Get back

It was a picture of Jesus. A framed print, gloriously sentimental, probably 
painted by a starving artist in Poland. But to the eyes of a twelve year old 
Catholic boy it was the most beautiful Mother's Day present in the world.
When I looked at the price sticker, just below the blue Woolworth label, the 
sticker shock was twofold: it confirmed its inaccessibility while further 
glamorizing its value. The picture next to it was half that price. I switched the 
price tags. I wasn't alone. My friend Kenny thought that this was so cool that he 
followed suit, and switched the price tag on a pair of sunglasses. Now it was a 
conspiracy. The irony that I was perpetrating a fraud to acquire an image of 
Jesus wasn't entirely lost on me, even as a twelve year old. I did feel a little 
crummy. But the grandeur of this gift, the anticipated glory of my mother's smile 
that it would surely evoke, easily trumped that. To the checkout we stole.

And at the checkout we were nabbed. By the smoldering and singularly pissed 
off store manager. The police were called. The irony of the evidence was not 
lost on the investigating patrol officer. Nor its grotesqueness on the manager. 
None of which changed the facts. Whatever leniency the pathos of my motive 
may have inspired, the plain venality of the sunglass heist, which I had also 
inspired, poisoned. A ride home in the patrol car would have to take place. 

Kenny and I sulked and trembled in the back seat. In a vehicle whose obvious 
authority and sheer coolness I couldn’t help admiring. The policeman, a hottie in 
his own right, stole my heart that day. He said to my dad "Don't be too hard on 
the boys..." But dad wasn’t feeling quite so magnanimous. Kenny was dropped 
off at my house to await the arrival of his parents. It wasn’t exactly a pajama 
party. The gang leader received the brunt of the scolding, in front of Kenny, and 
rightly so. With a promise of appropriate punishment to be determined. 
My mother just shook her head sadly. I like to think I saw the slightest hint of a 
smile in her eyes, which she tried hard to keep to herself. 

I suspect many other gifts, given to many others, over the years, have been 
more or less grotesque as well. I hope they’re less of a dead mouse than they 
used to be. The first gift that I gave anyone, independently won and inspired, 
was a hand-made lady's "fan" that I won for my mother at the school fair. I was 
six. The fan was, in fact, a yellow fly swatter decorated with glitter and edged 
with blue marabou feathers. But it was the most gorgeous object I’d ever seen 
in my young life. Mom had to have it. She was moved to tears. And nobody 
arrested me that time. Get back... Get back... Get back to where you once 

July 23, 2008

Ghost spotting

I'd heard that there was a ghost in the swamp. And finding myself with nothing particular to do on a bright balmy day last week I set off, glazed with mosquito repellent, to see what I could see.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is the "largest remaining stand of ancient bald cypress left in North America," some six thousand acres in the heart of southwest Florida. It is managed by the National Audubon Society.

I was virtually alone in the sanctuary that day. But as I trekked deeper into the wild, and ever further from traffic and voices and buzz, I came to realized that my reference for the meaning of 'alone', the absence of human beings, was short sighted.

An old, lichen-dappled boardwalk threads through the preserve. There was something familiar, comforting, about those old boards, drawing me endlessly into the woods.

A Gulf Fritillary on a wildflower. Wildlife here seems to move in a primordial calm.

Alligator flags lead to a clearing and a chorus of shrouds.

Corkscrew is replete with ferns. The little resurrection fern, whose brown, shriveled leaves turn green and fresh after a shower, is joined on a tree stump by a strap fern. A fallen tree often becomes a nursery log, releasing back into the world around it the nurturing energy it stored up during its life.

Swamp hibiscus, bright stars lighting the undergrowth, are a wild species.

Josephus Somewhereatan pausing for a rest at a rain shelter.

A ruddy dagger wing. You don't want to know about its diet.

Scores of bird species are at home in the swamp. A curious white-eyed vireo eyes the curious visitor.

Birds and butterflies are fond of the fruit of the strangler fig. Seed that fall into a likely crevice on a tree quickly sprout and begin sending roots to the ground. They don't actually strangle their host. But in their relentless climb skyward, the strangler's own canopy can rob the host of adequate sunlight and kill it. Corkscrew sanctuary is close to the species' northernmost habitat, and cool winters, even an occasional frost, usually keep the strangler in check.

A lubber grasshopper vacates a swamp lily and alights on a leaf. It could be poison ivy. The swamp is dripping with poison ivy.

The remains of an old wood god.

While I was gazing into the woods, a red shouldered hawk flew right behind me, a small black snake in its beak. It landed here and screamed.

And there it was, the ghost. Sorry I couldn't get closer. A ranger stationed nearby would see to that. It is thought to be the only one in the sanctuary. They're protected in Florida and are on the Cites list. Here's a closer look at one. Dendrophylax lindenii, the 'ghost orchid', is the subject of Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief", from which the movie Adaptation was adapted. There are a few more in the Fakahachee strand, growing on cypress and pond apples, mostly in alligator infested waters.

Another epiphyte in bloom.

And then my heart stood still. It turned out to be a trio of what I took to be young white tail siblings. The sisters lurked in the dappled green, on the left of the photo, while boyo came out to stare at me sidewise. After a moment they booked, hoofs scrambling on the resonant turf. They left a scent of horses. Which is to say deer.

The sun was dipping into the western sky by the time I made my way out of the sanctuary. I stopped at McD on the way home. If I looked like somebody who'd seen a ghost, nobody seemed to notice.

July 18, 2008

One must eat

So I jumped off the safari (more work than my work, come to think of it) long enough to photograph this neo-mediterranian house, built on a preserve in the southwest corner of the city. Three stories, plus an observation tower. I can maybe afford a scooter to park under the portico.

A kitchen worthy of my fettuccine alfredo.

Just 'around the corner' in this shower enclosure is a marble hot tub. That could provide a whole new incentive to get dirty. Gill, I'll be ordering some Dermalogica. A standing order.

July 14, 2008

Shells in a tree

I came across this tree, upended by beach erosion, probably an Australian pine, while hiking Bowman's Beach on Sanibel Island. Its roots were hung, rather whimsically, with sea shells.

July 11, 2008


Is this a new marketing strategy?

July 9, 2008

Rain, rain

It rains every day now, often a thundershower, late in the day, a return to the archaic tropical cycle. I exult in this kiss of responsibility suspended, business as usual deferred. The weather's own little sabbath.

I venture out, a bike ride in the cooled and gleaming aftermath, the deepened colors, coasting through puddles, tires rinsed and blackened. In an hour it seeps away, absorbed by this ancient pile of shells. The trees drip on til morning.

July 5, 2008

July 2, 2008

Key of be

When T.E. Lawrence was asked why he liked the desert he replied "It's clean." Sunday I awoke with a yen for Lover's Key. I went alone. There's a remote section of the beach there where the solitude and simplicity whisper vastly, intimately, to my spirit. With my body stripped and sanded, sun-burnished, my soul swims freely to the horizon. I get lost in a primal rapture out here, sweet music of surf and sky, abandoned to divine providence.

"Return of the native."

I heard an osprey scream. I grabbed my camera and looked around. It circled overhead and then swooped down to snag a fish. The raptor's piercing cry seems an ancient exultation.

Washed ashore, the seaweeds reminisce, with delicate scribbles, about the sea.