Haleakala National Park

Have you ever thought about the things you have intentionally or even inadvertently done that influence people in your life, especially your children? I attribute my fascination with Hawaii and my love of national parks to my dad. When I was about nine years old, our family of six camped across the country in our modified VW microbus. We stopped at some of the biggies – Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Rocky Mountain National Park. I loved being in the parks and still consider them high up on my list of happy places.

Bob and I have made this trip with our four children, so we now understand what an undertaking it was and how we probably had more fun than our parents did, though they appreciated it more.

My dad and little sister Linda posing in front of one of the iconic signs. My nine-year-old self took this with my brand new camera.

I think my love and fascination of Hawaii came about a bit more subliminally. Dad made several business trips there and took lots of pictures, which were viewed as slides. That was the choice medium of the day – I don’t know why! Believe it or not, sometimes we kids would ask our parents if we could watch home movies and slides. If you can remember a time before the internet and cable TV, that makes more sense.

The problem was, every time we’d ask him to set up the projectors so we could see how cute we all were when we were younger, the first thing he would show us was Hawaii. He loved Hawaii and communicated that well and often, but when you’re a kid you can only sit through so many landscapes and beach scenes before you mentally check out. Something must have stuck in my brain though, because as an adult, Hawaii was on the top of my list of places to visit.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Bob and I celebrated our 25th anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. My dad was very excited to help with the planning. He had saved every brochure from his trips there in the 1960s. He presented them to us, I’m sure, with joyful memories hula-dancing through his head. We stared at them in only slight disbelief that he saved these black and white relics from over three decades ago. “Thanks, Dad!”

Fast forward another 22 years and Hawaii was calling us again. We had two major things in Maul that were unfinished from the year 2000 trip – both involved the spectacular Haleakala National Park, which we visited then. It’s a big park, and it is famous for its sunrises. People make reservations to be transported to the summit for coveted glimpses of the sun rising and then a bike ride down the mountain. On our 25th anniversary trip, we opted out of this because we would have had to leave our resort at 3:00 in the morning to get to the top on time. Sunrises are not dependable, as clouds and rain can quite literally put a damper on them, so you go with that in mind as well. In that season of our lives, we had four kids at home, and there wasn’t much to entice me out of bed at that time of day – not even Haleakala. We have regretted this decision, so when we booked this trip back in January, we determined to embrace that adventure.

That was before I broke my shoulder in February. Would we embrace the biking adventure? Could I embrace the biking adventure? Could I even keep a good hold on the handlebars? Can we wake up at 2:30 in the morning? We decided to hold it loosely – kind of like I would have to hold handlebars on a bike.

My shoulder was doing pretty well, definitely well enough to ride a bike, but my stamina was another thing. Plus, we would be riding along the side of the mountain road for a few hours and my entire body, much less my shoulder, was untested in this arena. Add to that I was beginning to suspect that Hawaii was trying to kill me as everything was just so hard compared to 22 years earlier. I was beginning to lose my drive.

Could 22 years make that much difference? YES! Throw in the broken shoulder and lack of movement for so much of this calendar year, mix it with altitude and elevation changes, and that could be a recipe for a last meal. Even Bob, who continues to mock me by playing pickleball three times a week, was hesitant on this one. We talked about it for a few days and then opted out. It was the mix of getting up early and riding down the mountain all the while remembering that our main goal of this trip was not to injure ourselves. And, we were tired. We were managing to keep up the pace of this trip only by fueling with coffee and diet coke. So, unlike our anniversary trip, we have no regrets.

Where there are sunrises on a mountain top, there must also be sunsets. We’d simply have to look the opposite way. Yep, we’re sunset people, so we headed to the park late morning to do some hiking and would arrive at the summit in time to get a good spot to relax and watch the show.

Our first stop in the park was Hosmer Grove, which was advised for birdwatching.

There is something special about feeling small in the forest.

After hiking through the forest we came to a clearing looking down on a tree covered valley. The birding here is mainly small song birds so I didn’t get any good pictures, but this place was a real treat. We did see several beautiful, red I’iwi and a few yellow ‘Amakihi flitting from tree to tree. This was a most relaxing hike. Bird watching takes my mind off of what my feet are doing.

Photos are from Hawaii.gov online guide to Hawaii’s birds. These beauties were too fast and small to capture with my iPhone.

Thankfully, driving up Haleakala is relatively easy. It’s a slow drive but the landscape is fantastic. We got out periodically and did little off the road hikes and were afforded breathtaking views along the way to its 10,023 foot summit.

This cliff at Kalahaku Overlook had interesting vegetation popping up from the rugged terrain. I loved how the blue sky gave way to the clouds. Literally one minute later we saw this:

Fogbow – I had never heard of them. Fascinating!

Not only are there lots of paths up mountains, Hawaii likes to throw in stairs, too. I guess they like to mix it up.

We made it to the summit and took in the views while walking slowly as the air was a little thin. Also, this was our moment of truth. Would we stay for the sunset? We arrived here at 4:30, over five hours since this journey began, and people were setting up chairs and blankets. We got one of the last parking places.

Japanese Quail

I think this looks like something out of a science fiction movie. It’s the Haleakala Observatories on the summit.

This picture was taken from the top of Haleakala at 4:50 PM. Doesn’t it look like we’re in an airplane? There was still more than an hour until official sunset time not including the beauty that would follow until dark. But, as had become the norm for us in Hawaii, by this time of day we were very tired. Our resort restaurant was having prime rib night. Hummmmm

The trip down the mountain would be over three hours if we waited until the sunset was over. We would be driving in the dark on roads without guardrails in traffic. We would miss prime rib and probably grab fast food. What should we do?

Prime rib? Beautiful sunset? Prime rib? Sunset?

Well, the prime rib was delicious.

The drive down the mountain was lovely. There was no traffic as everyone was heading up. We stopped and took in some great views. And, like I said the prime rib was delicious.

We drove down to this area and were blessed with more beauty and fog bows.

I was enjoying some final views near the top of the mountain when Bob started heading back to our rental jeep. It’s not exactly walking into the sunset, but it’ll do!

Pickleball

I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’m an athlete now.

When Bob “retired” back in July he started playing pickleball three times a week. He’d probably play more but it might interfere with his golf game or his going back to the office as a contract employee (kind of like retirement light). Bob has a lot of energy and the heat down here in Florida doesn’t keep him from playing these outdoor games.

Then there’s me. The summer sun beating down on me can almost keep me from going to the mailbox. That may be a slight exaggeration, but after sweating that 15-yard walk (x2 since I have to return) six days a week, May through October, I’m ready to take a dip in the pool. I garden on the shady side of the house only in the late afternoon or after dinner. Once when I parked far away from a store just to park in the shade, my daughter told me she thought shade was my idol. She’s not completely wrong.

But Bob wanted me to play pickleball with him, and I love that. It was so sweet of him, especially since he knows darn well that there is not an athletic bone in my body. I am competitive, so I guess he thought that might see me through. I agreed to play but insisted I’d start in November or December after the blistering heat had subsided. That would up the chance that I might like it (from 10 percent to about 30 percent). Then we all got COVID in November, so that gave me a pickleball reprieve until December.

December arrived and I couldn’t come up with more excuses, so finally Bob got me to go with him to the neighborhood courts, which was great as I didn’t have an audience. We had a couple practice sessions and then joined the regular Wednesday night group, which he had already become a part of.

Pickleball, despite its ridiculous name, has a few things going for it. It’s played with a wiffle ball, so it doesn’t hurt too much if you get hit. The court is slightly smaller than a tennis court, so less running. To me it felt like ping pong, only with large paddles and strange scoring and rules. The part of the court close to the net is called the kitchen, and you are not supposed to go in there. That was endearing.

The most surprising part of the game was that I liked it. Right away. Even though I was just learning and wasn’t good at it yet. I’ve only been playing for about six weeks, so I’m still not “good,” but I am improving. I set the bar for enjoyment pretty low, and I have leap-frogged over it. I now even suggest playing pickleball, much to Bob’s delight. We are teaching friends to play. It’s practically a miracle!

But that was before the injury. Last week I sustained a hamstring pull. Yep, I pulled a hammie! I must be an athlete! In validation of my athleticism, I would have high-fived my friend who was with me, but I could barely walk, so that will have to wait.

The irony is that I sustained this injury while bird watching. I am still in disbelief that my hobby has so cruelly turned on me. We were walking along the shores of Lake Apopka, enjoying the beautiful, cool January day, spotting alligators and birds, and wham – I nearly did a face-plant after tripping on a partially buried rock. I guess I should have stretched before doing such rigorous exercise.

It might be a couple weeks before I’m back on the court. I sure hope this doesn’t hurt my game!

American Alligator posing at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive
Various ducks and water fowl on Lake Apopka

My Life on the Rocks

I have a new obsession, I mean hobby. I stumbled upon it at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, my favorite local birding area, with over 367 species noted. In addition, it is chocked full of alligators. Otters, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat family reside in the area. And, rocks can be found there!

This may be surprising to you as by now you likely know that I live in Central Florida. We are not known for our rocks down here. Sand, rain, hurricanes, mosquitoes, construction on I-4 – yes. Rocks – not so much. Be that as it may, there is no denying that I collect rocks, and my favorite place to find them is the North Shore of Lake Apopka.

I’m not talking about your everyday, run-of-the-mill rocks. I also don’t care if they are igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic, which are the three rock classifications that I may or may not have had to verify on google. I have two classifications for my rocks. Painted and not painted. For me to collect one, it must have something pretty or fun painted on it. I will also accept the occasional chunk of concrete, seashell, or wood if it’s painted.

I’m not sure exactly when the rock hiding craze started, but I know it’s in full swing. Over a year ago, as I was scrolling the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Facebook page, I learned of a few generous painters who would leave “Easter eggs” out there for people to find. This was going to be better than my childhood collection of bottle caps. Plus, I wouldn’t have to hide it under my bed to avoid ridicule from my siblings.

I love going to the drive and looking at the birds, especially in the winter during migration times and in the spring during nesting season. I’ve also seen river otters and marsh rabbits. Bobcats are there, too; but you couldn’t prove it by me. Summer is full of alligators (my highest one-day count is 113) and what I believe should be the Florida state bird – the Common Gallinule. They are everywhere – much more common than the Northern Mockingbird.

So even though I told myself and anyone who might ask me that I was finished going to the drive until it cools down, I was compelled to go. Because there are rocks, and they are pretty. Plus, it gives me a rush to find them, which is probably because I have no talent in that arena. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

It took me a long time to find my first. I was lamenting about my lack of success to my friend, Debi. Debi is one of those people who wins contests. She offered that I could have one of hers – a magnanimous gesture which would take the fun out of it for someone as competitive as I am. And, of course, Debi had found several. Her keen eye did not surprise me, but I declined her generous offer. I must find one all by myself – like a big girl.

Last February, I found one. It was beautiful, even though it was not a depiction of nature. It was a taco. Still, I like tacos and I was thrilled to find a rock of my very own. I put my taco rock on the shelf for all to see. What an accomplishment! I was happy.

Happiness sure is fleeting. It didn’t take long for me to realize that having one lone taco rock was a lot like eating one taco, or worse yet, Chinese food; you get hungry again fast. You must have more.

Since Facebook has a page designated to the Drive, I learned about a lady named Liz who paints the coolest rocks. I marveled that people would use their talents to bless people they likely would never meet, so my fascination grew and grew. Soon rock painters/hiders were springing up on the Facebook page displaying the rocks they would be hiding. I started trying to figure out the best times to go to the drive and add to my taco rock. But my goal was to find a Liz rock.

Over the summer weeks, not every time I went but often, I found a rock or two while on the drive. (In case you’re wondering, you can get out of your car. There are pull-outs and other trails and areas to observe nature and there is signage to identify the local flora and fauna.) I have rock art by several local birding/painting enthusiasts.

I wished I could paint a rock and leave it for someone to find. My friend, Peggy, even suggested that I could. I thought Peggy knew me better! But I did want to leave something for someone – to give back a little. The only thing I have created besides my four children, who clearly wouldn’t stand for being left out on the shores of Lake Apopka, is my children’s book, ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE MAGIC. Florida is more than a little humid with chances of extreme downpours, so it was foolish to leave a book out there. I had to create a plan.

I carried a couple of my books in the car with me, but in the summer months, I barely encountered any other people much less children. Then one day I saw on Facebook that my favorite artist, Liz, was meeting another artist, Lee, at a particular time and spot on the drive. Game on!

Bob and I, along with my sister, headed out to hopefully intercept that meeting. I had three of my books with me. Everything seemed against us getting to that meeting on time. The drive-through at McDonald’s was particularly slow and I’ll admit it – I complained. I was anxious. I was ridiculous. My sweet sister mentioned that maybe the delay would work for us in God’s timing. She was right.

We pulled in just in time to find Liz and Lee. Bob slowed the car down to about 8 mph and I jumped out before Lee could leave. I was so excited to meet him and when I gave him a book, he gave me and my sister magnets that he had made from his extraordinary photographs. How fun!

Meanwhile, Bob and my sister were talking to Liz. I was so happy to meet her; and I gave her a book as well, thanking her for how giving she is and for the fun that she and others have added to an already wonderful drive. She was so sweet and then she did the unimaginable – she gave my sister and me a rock each. Well, mine was a bluebird painted on a wooden egg. I love it. My goal of having a Liz creation was met and then some!

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” Henry David Thoreau

Farther down the road, we met a lady named Patty, who, you guessed it, also paints rocks. I was glad I brought three books.

These two are among my favorites which were found by people who were doing the drive with me. The alligator is the rock Liz gave to my sister.

This is a sample of my collection.

I have rehidden a few and might do a few more. I hear of people re-hiding them to spread out the blessing. I told Bob that I was so happy to have a Liz rock. If I find another one, well then, I’ll have two! Sharing only goes so far!

Snakes Alive!

We haven’t had rain in six weeks, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the black racer which I was trying to chase off my pool deck with a gentle spray from my hose seemed to welcome the shower. This is the second snake in a week we’ve had stop in for a visit.

I’ve been wanting to lead a more active lifestyle, but snake wrangling was not what I had in mind. More along my speed is my offer of assistance to a momma cardinal who is nesting just outside of our pool deck. I have chased snakes away from the area, and water and stocked birdfeeders are always in our yard. This is the first time in my life I have been up close and personal with a nest; and I am rather protective, which is why I propped open the rear door of the screen enclosure to usher the aforementioned black racer to an area away from the “nursery.”

I started out referring to the snake as “he” (probably because our last four pets were males), but I’m beginning to have my doubts. She seemed reluctant to leave, so I was forced to get the broom and gently offer two incentives for departure. It was ridiculous how much resistance I got from her! It was an effort to get her past each panel of screening. Several times she coiled up and did her best impression of a cobra.

I was not deterred. I was also full-on aerobic by the time the thoughts crept into my head as to why on earth wouldn’t she want to be out of the pool screen area as much as I wanted her out! I guessed she was stubborn or stupid.

Fifteen long minutes later, she finally exited. I watched her slither along the edge of the outside of the pool screen as I reached out and closed the door behind her. She stayed right up against it all the way to the corner, made a quick right turn, continued along the screen to the back of the house, and reentered the pool enclosure.

What the what! I was sweaty and tired. She just seemed to be getting started. There was no way that I was going to play this game! And that was the point when it hit me that I might be dealing with a female. Maybe even a mama. That was also the point where I decided that Bob should meet her.

The good news here is that we had discovered the entry point. Even better, it was on the opposite side of the house from my precious cardinal nest. But of concern was the fact that she had almost disappeared in our bed of river rocks. At first, I could barely see her; then she disappeared altogether. I knew she was there though, but why was she there? Why wouldn’t she want to be outside? Was she protecting something? Should I keep her in the pool deck to protect the cardinal eggs?

The answers to these questions are:

  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t know.
  • Bob will think I lost my mind.

Of course, by the time Bob returned from work she was nowhere to be seen. There are lots of awesome hiding places for a snake on our pool deck. Bob checked them all and then he blocked the entry point that she used to get back in. Hopefully, she’s not trapped inside now. If she is just good at hiding, she has to come out sometime! Worst case scenario, I’ll know in 43-65 days if what she’s hiding is a nest of snake eggs.

Living in Florida has changed me. There was a time when I would have moved rather than defend my home against a snake or kill a palmetto bug or get close to a frog. Well, I still have to grow into that frog thing. I know it seems unlikely, but they really do act like they are out to get me.

As far as that snake goes, I don’t think she’s out there. Really, I don’t. Nope, she’s not there. I’m sure of it.

We Make Our Plans, But God Orders our Steps

What fueled my impromptu visit to my favorite birding place last Sunday?

It began on Saturday. It was a lovely day, and we had no plans. We decided to stay home and enjoy the quiet. By late-afternoon, I was restless. I wished we had gone outside on a bike ride or a drive or anything! But it was too late in the day to begin.

Sunday morning I checked my Facebook page and read that roseate spoonbills were spotted at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD). These tall, pink/white birds with a spoon-shaped bill are typically found in marshes along the coasts, so that got my attention. Also at LAWD, thanks to some amazing and giving artists, there are painted rocks to be found. I have been trying to find one for years, so between the spoonbills and the thought of finding one of those illusive rocks, it could be a good day for a drive.

I thought about staying home. Bob left at noon to play golf. My mom didn’t feel like going on the drive with me. Did I really want to go alone? It was too late to find a friend and get there with enough time before it closed. These thoughts didn’t sway me, so I headed to Apopka.

The spoonbill-spotter reported that they were seen about a mile into the drive. I set my trip gauge.

I have done this drive many times, and I have never encountered such a long line of cars. Were they all searching for spoonbills? Unlikely.

I don’t mind driving slowly there. The speed limit is 10 mph. The slower you go, the more you see. But this was crazy. At the half-mile point, I entered a pull-out and parked. Excitement was building inside me – surely all this slow traffic was due to people photographing the spoonbills.

View from near the entrance

The one-way road is not really made for walkers, but there’s room. On each side of the elevated road is swamp land and marshes. This is a prime spot for water birds and marsh birds, and it goes on as far as the eye can see. It is also frequented by alligators, though not as much as farther down. With so many cars, I felt safe.

This big boy was enjoying the sunshine farther down the drive.

I walked a quarter mile and became convinced that these were new folks who were not accustomed to the idea of pull-outs to allow traffic to move along. At that point I was passing the slow-moving cars, so I turned around.

I felt like Forrest Gump when he had been running around the country. Do you remember? Suddenly he just stops and says he’s tired and thinks he’ll go home.

Me at Forrest Gump Point, Mexican Hat, Utah, 2019

I walked maybe a tenth of a mile when right in front of my eyes, a car moving towards me, in line with the traffic, caught my attention. The driver’s door opened, and a woman fell out and rolled on the dirt and gravel road. Her car was still moving! I barely had time to process this, but I ran the short distance and jumped into her moving car. It has been a while since I felt that kind of adrenaline rush.

There were elderly people inside and the woman in the front had attempted to grab the wheel and steer, but she would have been unable to get to the brake. I got the car in line, applied the brake, and put it in park. Someone asked me what I said to the people in the car and I really don’t remember. I wish I had said, “Hi, I’m Bonnie, your new driver.”

The poor woman who had fallen out was trying to get up and brush herself off. Thankfully, she was not hurt other than road rash and a few bruises including her ego. She was probably ten years my junior. We introduced ourselves. Debbie thanked me profusely and told me that I had saved her life. I assured her that I had not saved her life. I pointed to her car and said, “maybe theirs,” with a smile.

Before I left Debbie, we had a conversation. I was oblivious to the fact that we were holding up traffic, but I had to tell her that I believed that God had me at that place at that time. There were no other people walking along the road. I had gone to the drive with no prior planning. I had wanted to take my mom with me, but she wasn’t up to it. I never would have taken that walk if I weren’t by myself. Anything could have changed the timing, but the timing was perfect for me (or whoever God used) to be at that place at that exact time. I had to praise Him.

As I walked back to my vehicle, I experienced a parade of thumbs-up and accolades from the cars and trucks I passed. I have never been called a hero before and it felt weird.

I saw Debbie and her parents a few more times at pull-outs. It was her first time at LAWD, and she joked about having another birding mishap. She thought she had put the car in park before getting out to take a picture. The movement of the car had knocked her off her feet when she attempted to step out. I told her that she did a perfect tuck and roll.

I can’t tell you how humbled I was that God would place me in that place for Debbie’s benefit. He orders our steps. Sometimes we don’t realize it. Sometimes we do.

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

The blessings God had in store for me were not over. I stopped at a pavilion to observe the alligators across the way, and there was a painted rock!

Taco Rock

Then I ventured down the drive and at one of my usual stops, I saw the most famous of the resident birds. Meet Crooked Neck. He is a great blue heron who apparently has recovered from a broken neck. He is often featured on the LAWD Facebook page and is somewhat of a celebrity. Yet, until Sunday I had never seen him. Thank you, Jesus!

Crooked Neck and the incoming paparazzi

On the last part of the drive out, I saw a raptor fly overhead and land in a tree. I pulled over and observed a beautiful bald eagle. I watched him for five minutes as he soared above me. Breathtaking!

There is a lot to behold out there! Things that make my heart sing and lift my spirits. Things that get me out of my own head and humble me. The God and Creator of all this cares for you and me. I’m thankful.

An Unexpected Shortage

I am so thankful to God for birds. We have a wonderful area in our backyard that we have fixed up just for them. Feeders, birdbath, trees and shrubs to hide in – it’s lovely and has been a source of peace for me in the midst of COVID-19. I think the birds like it, too.

Once in a while a big one stops by. This is a Sandhill Crane.

Do you have a place in your life that helps you to find calm during the crazy right now? For me it’s my backyard. I like to sit outside in the morning with a cup of coffee and the Bible and enjoy my little slice of heaven. Hearing the birds sing in the trees and watching them fly in and out for their breakfast is peace to my soul. I confess that once during the shut-down phase, I went to Costco solely because we were out of birdseed. It is essential for me.

Two weeks ago, we had a hailstorm. We had our roof examined and it has no damage, but one of my birdfeeders wasn’t so lucky. Its roof must have taken a direct hit and had a nice size crack in it. (The insurance company said it was not covered under our insurance.)

Different birds like different feeders, but this one, a hopper feeder, is the favorite of most. I keep two on hand because these guys may look like birds, but they eat like pigs. When I go out-of-town, I hang the extra feeder because I don’t want the birdies to think I deserted them and look for food elsewhere.

These hopper feeders are cheap – I can pick one up for $10-$12 at any hardware store. At least I thought I could, but that was before stupid COVID-19. I checked our local Lowe’s and Home Depot and the feeders had flown off the shelves. I looked at four different stores before I gave up and went on-line. Even on-line they were in short supply, though I did manage to find one not too far from me, so I ordered it and picked it up this morning.

I donned my mask and entered Lowe’s where I stood in line, six feet behind two women who each had a dog with them. One dog was in a carriage. The other was on a leash, like some kind of animal. These women didn’t know each other, but the one was quick to come to the aid of the other when her dog pooped on the floor right in front of us. The cashier behind the plexiglass was unable to help because they don’t have any wipes in the store, but the woman with her dog in the carriage was prepared for whatever would come her way. She even explained away the accident to the embarrassed owner by saying that the dog must have been nervous.

By this time, I was getting a little nervous. Bad smells have been known to trigger my gag reflex and you don’t want that when you’re wearing a mask; but I controlled myself. It was a good thing too because I already knew there were no wipes in the store.

On the way home I surveyed the incident and came to the conclusion that animals were being treated like people and people like animals. We people were herded through the line, obediently standing six feet apart, and those dogs weren’t even wearing masks! A little poop on the floor – no big deal! I had to wear a mask to gain entry to the store and I never poop on anyone’s floor. Sigh.

This isn’t a post about the Great Mask Debate of 2020 or about people bringing their pets everywhere with them as if they were people. Well, maybe it is a little. It’s more about the irony of the day. Unlike birdfeeders, puzzles, coins, rice, pasta, meat, Lysol wipes, and toilet paper, irony is not in short supply. I sure hope we don’t experience a sense of humor shortage. We would surely be doomed if that were to happen.

I take refuge in the fact that nothing escapes the view of my Heavenly Father. He loves the birds of the air and he loves his children.

 

Matthew 10:29-31 – Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

 

These are red-winged blackbirds, not sparrows, but the point stands.

 

 

A Pen, a Sword, and a Great Blue Heron walked into a bar. Which was mightier?

I’ve been thinking about killing someone off, and it’s harder than I thought it would be. I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is a campaign to write a novel (at least 50,000 words) in the month of November. I have reached the juncture in my story where someone must die. I knew death was inevitable, but I’ve been writing around it for the last three days. I can’t bring myself to do it.

I am pretty sure that it’s a good thing that this is hard for me. It should be hard. After all, my novel is based on real events and real people whom I closely know, so this is personal. Even though death is a part of life, I wasn’t prepared to do the deed with my own hand on the keyboard.

In 1839, novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton penned the words, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” That may be true unless you’re on the wrong end of the sword. Get my point?

Anyway, when I finish this post. I will open my Word document and try again. I hope I can finish the job this time. The rest of my characters are waiting to react to the event. Right now, they don’t know what’s going on.

Hopefully sometime next year I will have this book published. Hopefully you will read it and forgive me for this weak spoiler. If you’re anything like me, you will have forgotten about this by then, so I think we’re safe.

As of this morning, I have written 31,438 words.  If I add this to the 14,008 words that I wrote earlier this year, I am well on my way to completion of my first draft. In January, I will have massive editing to do, so there is that; but I am on pace to finish by the end of November. Thanksgiving may cause a problem, still I’ll press on and hope for the best without making my husband and myself crazy.

Last weekend, Bob and I took our local grandsons to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. We were excited to introduce them to this favorite place of ours and get me out from behind the computer for a while. A wildlife drive will offer idyllic scenes of beautiful birds flying about or perched high above and wading birds floating around the water surrounded by flowers.

 

Great Egret in the Burr Marigolds

It will also offer a decaying corpse of an alligator. The boys were fascinated. The gator was swollen and floating upside down in a pond. It was gross and we were thankful we were upwind of him. I did not capture a picture of him even though the boys requested one. You can’t give them everything they want. I don’t want to spoil them too much.

Bob, our grandsons, and an Anhinga (aka Water Turkey or Snake Bird)

In keeping with the death theme, which has been on my mind as I try to do in my character, we came across this lovely scene.

Great Blue Heron with a snack-sized American Alligator

I don’t think I gathered any ideas which I can use in my death-scene writing dilemma, but you never know. Would you be surprised to find out that one of my characters had been killed by a bird or an alligator? Maybe I’ll try to work that into the plot. Maybe not.

Beach Jerky

Clearwater Beach on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico is becoming my go-to beach. Our first day there we gazed out the window of our seventh-floor condo and were amazed at all the birds. I felt like I was watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They were having feeding frenzies up and down the beach. I had to get down there!

We were a little hesitant to swim. So many birds feeding can only mean one thing. Fish. There were thousands of them. We stood knee-deep in the water and gazed down as they swam past (and sometimes into) us. Of course, large schools of little fish mean bigger fish had to be around, but we only saw a few, and they weren’t the kind that eat you. We were cautious because we are familiar with the food chain. We didn’t want to meet the guys at the top of it.

The feeding frenzy lasted a few mornings. By Day #2, I decided to throw caution to the tropical breezes and fulfill my quest to be in the 86-degree water. Plus, I figured I may never get a bird-watching opportunity like this again. I could be right out there with the gulls, the least terns, and the pelicans.

Majestic brown pelicans flew in formation just a foot or two over my head. I became quite chummy with them – not to be confused with the kind of chum that one uses while fishing. One older guy (you can tell by the white on his head and front of his neck) seemed to enjoy floating near me as much as I enjoyed being close to him. I could have reached out and touched him, but I didn’t. He’s a big boy. Did you know they have a wingspan of 6 ½ feet? Plus, at 50 inches high and having the webbed feet that I lack, he’s nothing to mess around with. We studied each other for half an hour. We chatted, well I chatted. He just listened.

The pelicans have much more self-control than the gulls and terns. Those two breeds seem to live to eat while the opposite could be said of the pelican. The pelicans were also non-imposing with a kind of live-and-let-live mentality. The gulls would land on top of the pelicans during feeding frenzy and try to take food from their mouth. They were real jerks.

The least terns were cute. In my mind they made eating a game and didn’t take life too seriously, unlike those jerk gulls. They would dive right next to us to snatch up some bait fish. It was quite a show.

While watching all of this, I kept an eye out for dorsal fins. I thought the water was too warm for sharks, but you never know. My big hope was to see a dolphin up close. We saw them from our condo, but I wanted more.

And I got it. I was floating around and a beautiful Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin swam right past me, not 10 feet away. I almost wet my pants! I was in the water so you’ll never know! By the end of the day, that dolphin or one of her buddies swam past me three times. None quite as close as that first time though.

On occasion, I had to leave the water to hydrate and reapply sunscreen. Once, I fell asleep in my chair, clearly exhausted from keeping up with all that nature. After a few minutes, I jerked awake, looked out in the water, and saw the dolphin and her calf swim past again. Bob’s convinced I have a dolphin-sense. Maybe he’s right! I saw them daily – from the room, from the beach, while in the water, and in the causeway as we drove over the bridge. I saw them when nobody else did, which called my dolphin-sighting integrity into question, but I would never feign finding a dolphin. I wouldn’t have been surprised if one was waiting for me in our pool when we got home. Okay, I would have been a little surprised.

We also came upon beds of sand dollars when we swam out to the sandbar. I kept wondering what was so rough below my feet. I used my toes like tongs and came up with one after another. They were everywhere. Most of them were the size of a quarter, and we put them back. Picking them up was like eating M&Ms – it’s hard to stop once you start. When my toes cramped and our hands turned yellow from what looks like sand dollar pee and we began to feel like those jerk gulls bothering other sea life, we took that as our cue. By the way, did you know it’s illegal to collect live specimens from the beach? We should have known that, but we did not. We didn’t get into trouble, but we could possibly have contributed to the delinquency of a minor in our sand dollar excitement. I’m not saying we did, but kids like to look at sand dollars. It was an educational trip. I’ll leave it at that.

The Sun Finally Sets on Sedona

Our last hike was through Red Rock State Park. We joined a two-hour guided tour being given by a park ranger who took a little too much time with the flora when I was more interested in the fauna. I do enjoy some good flora, but it was a bit much for me.

The parks that we have visited in the Southwest are not so chocked full of animals like in the Northwest. While mule deer, javelina, coyotes, and bobcats are normal visitors, we saw none of the above. We saw a stray jackrabbit, and a few people at the end of our group saw a rattlesnake – shudder! That was it except for birds.

The park has a songbird feeder area at the rear of the Visitor Center. This was just below where our tour began. I was so distracted with the birds that I’m not sure what I was supposed to learn at the beginning of the tour, but I knew exactly what I was going to do at the tour’s end.

After hiking through the park, we went to the car, placed our Diet Cokes into can koozies, grabbed a bag of pretzels, and headed to the bird area. We joined another couple with whom we had an immediate rapport. They, too, had their Diet Cokes in can koozies and were enjoying the birds. It was like we were twin couples separated at birth, only to be reunited by the use of can koozies and a love of bird watching.

Here are a few of my many shots of the birds:

Female Northern Cardinal

Hummingbird – Arizona is a premium place to see hummingbirds. I can’t ID the different species.

Western Tanager

Hummingbird in flight

“Poser” Hummingbird

Unknown and it’s driving me crazy

Jim and Pat were from Colorado and we spent an hour with them talking about birds, where we live, and the churches we are a part of. It was like we’d known them forever, which was proven the next day when Bob and I were sitting on a bench in town enjoying the mountain views and they walked by. I yelled, “Jim and Pat!”

They said, “Bob and Bonnie,” and came over and we hugged and talked some more. She laughed and said a passer-by would think we were long, lost friends. This time we exchanged info and we look forward to meeting up with them again sometime. Note: The most amazing part of this story is that we remembered each other’s names.

Something about this sign seemed inconsistent to me

Our last day in Sedona was a designated rest/shop/golf driving range day. Part of that day was visiting the local bookstore. In Sedona, the shelves are what you would expect except for the extra-large section of books about crystals, vortex info, psychics, well-being, metaphysics, and new-age material.

We found these types of things in many shops around town, and while we were not interested in them personally, a lot of people flock to Sedona for just those reasons. Plus, it’s beautiful there, so there truly is something for everyone.

There was one man we met who really stood out. He worked at our resort. After talking to him for a while, I asked him, “Out of all the people you talk to, what percentage would you say tell you that you look like Ted Danson?”

“Almost 100 percent,” he replied.

What do you think?

 

Ted Dansen doppelganger

In closing, I need to tell you something we learned about the sunsets in Sedona. Between the rain, clouds, and our naiveté about the area, it took us a few days to realize that we were looking in the wrong direction when trying to watch the sun go down. We would find a nice area with unobstructed view and, of course, look westward. That’s a rookie mistake in Sedona. You look east toward the mountains. When the sun reflects off the smooth rocks, that’s when you get the show. It was spectacular.

Sedona Sunset Looking Westward

 

Glistening Sunset Looking toward the East

They both are lovely, but the way the sun bounces off of the rocks was quite magical. What do you think?

And that’s a wrap of Sedona. Hope you enjoyed it and hope you get to go there. A lot of folks have told me it’s on their bucket list. If you go, be sure to look for our friend, Derek, I mean Ted Danson.

Sunday Night at Home with a Movie

Today I’m taking my inspiration from my good friend Debi Walter and her wonderful blog The Romantic Vineyard. I’m not referring to Debi as my good blogging friend or Facebook friend. We literally have been friends for 40 years, and she is every bit as wonderful in day-to-day life as she is on her blog. Actually, she is more so.

In case you’re not familiar with The Romantic Vineyard, check it out here. It provides “a rich harvest of ideas to help your marriage grow.” It says so right at the top of the banner.

Debi and I are as alike as we are dissimilar. She writes a romance blog. I write a humor blog. Clearly that’s one way we’re similar. Okay, we both write. I’ll leave it at that.

When I read her Five Friday Favorites – At Home Meal and Movie Dates, I was inspired. I told Debi that I was wondering what I would serve for my home meal and movie date.  What would go with some of my favorite comedies? She told me to go for it, so here you are.

First, the disclaimer, Debi is a wonderful cook and she loves cooking. It is one of the ways she shows love. I view cooking as something that I have done more than enough, but I am willing to cook – if I have to. I’m even a pretty decent cook, but the thrill is gone. One of the ways people can show me that they love me is to cook for me. I’ll just put that out there in case anyone needs an idea. Already you can see why Debi and I have a well-suited friendship.

Favorite Comedies (not exhaustive, of course)

Movie #1 – RED with Bruce Willis – All this movie needs is a glass of red wine. That’s how I read the cover.

Movie #2 – Groundhog Day – This takes a little more planning. The night before, make a double batch of whatever you’re cooking and save enough to serve during the movie.

Movie #3 – The Help – I know this one is not a comedy, but it has its moments. It made Debi’s list, too. All you really need here is a big batch of chocolate cream pie served at just the right moment.

Movie #4 – Back to the Future – hamburgers, fries, and a Tab or something else without sugar in it.

Movie #5 – The Big Year – wings

Movie #6 – Fever Pitch – I try to watch this on Opening Day of Baseball Season. Hot dogs and beer with sides of peanuts and Cracker Jacks is perfect.

Movie #7 – The Court Jester – Perhaps my all-time favorite comedy. It doesn’t matter what drink you offer as long as it’s not served in the Chalice with the Palace. Try the Vessel with the Pestle instead, but be careful you don’t break it and have to use the Flagon with the Dragon.

 

Do you have any movie pairings you can add to the list? What are some of your favorite comedies?

 

This is Post #28 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.