Sunday, September 30, 2007

What did you bring me?

In the land of pink houses, pink beaches and pink shorts shopping is de rigueur. I wandered aimlessly though up-scale jewelry stores, high-end clothiers, perfumeries, and liquors shops searching for something to take home. Nothing seemed right.

As I went in and out of the stores, I pondered. Why are we compelled to buy souvenirs? What is the perfect souvenir? What would remind me of this place? Is the souvenir something for me or do I want the guests in my home to comment on it? Is there an expectation from folks at home that they will receive something? Is it about the experience or culture of the place?

I gave up buying and gifting T-shirts years ago. I don’t like little bric-a-brac with the name of the locale on it (dust collectors, as my mother would say.) I usually look for something that has a cultural component. Music. Specialty food. Art.

In this, I found Bermuda disappointing. I heard no local music-the radio played top pop US hits. The food catered to the US palate-nuf said. I did go to some galleries; there is art on the island, but none of it (with one exception, a print) spoke to me.

So, I came home with 2 small rum cakes (1 for the office and 1 for the freezer), a long-sleeved shirt from Dolphin Quest and a five-dollar Bermudian bill.

I have traveled a lot around the world. Maybe I am jaded. When I leave the country I would rather have a “foreign” experience and not feel like I have never let the US. Must we export our culture to other places? Sigh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mystery Caterpillar

Anyone have any idea what this is? It is smooth, plump and about 3 inches long. It is hanging onto a Russian Sage bush. It has been moving around from branch to branch for a week. It does not appear to be eating it. No chrysalis yet. Some sort of moth?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hunting and Gathering

I read a WONDERFUL book by Anna Gavalda called Hunting and Gathering. I absolutely loved it. I read half on a plane to Phoenix and finished it while I was there.

Originally written in French, the story takes place in Paris. There are 4 main characters: Camille an artist who cleans offices at night and lives in a garret, Philibert Marquet de La Durbelliere a stammering aristocrat who rescues Camille, Franck an obnoxious womanizing young chef who cooks like a dream and is Philibert’s roommate and Franck’s grandmother. They all end up living in the same apartment.

Funny, engaging, well written, with fabulous dialogue. You will care about the characters right away.

I have not read a book in a long time that I could have easily read in one sitting and was sad to finish

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Why Cowboys jingle when they walk.

The round thing is the rowel, but I do not know what the jingley things are called.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The present

Karen looked out the window. She could see Chester coming across the lawn. He had a present. He often brought presents. She sighed and wiped the suds from her hands. Not again….

The move to the country had been draining for both of them. There had been three moves in four years--first the house, then the apartment, and now this place in the country with 5 acres. The apartment had been nice and big. They had lived there alone, developing quite a rapport. When the apartment building was sold and they were evicted, it was devastating. But that was behind them now. There were finally settling in to country life.

The property bordered a small marshy area, where they could hear peepers in the spring. The first time she noticed the sound, she had no idea what it was. She had even called her mom and held the phone out the window, both of them wondering at the cascade of sound.

The same thing happened with the birds. They were very different from the city birds. She loved watching them. She loved listening to them in the early mornings. When she couldn’t sleep in the depth of the night, she would lay awake eavesdropping on the conversations of the Great Horned Owls. She would try to pick out the different bird songs. She went out and bought 3 different kinds of birdfeeders. She loved the birds. Chester loved the birds too.

Chester loved all of the outdoors. He loved the woodland creatures. He loved roaming the property. He loved napping in the shade of the trees. The outdoors was so much more interesting than the indoors. He was happy. When he came back from his jaunts, he often brought something back.

Karen opened the door and stepped outside to see what it was this time. She saw something brown. Crap. It was a bird. Huh. It was a full grown robin! How had he caught it?

“Come here, honey. Let me see.” Chester came up to her. There was a gleam in his eyes. He burbled with happiness. As she bent down to see, she noticed that the robin’s eyes were open. The robin blinked at her. It did not struggle, but lay quietly. She carefully, pried opened Chester’s mouth and the robin flew off, unhurt. The robin sat in the tree across the lawn and started preening. Chester glared at Karen lashing his tail. Karen raised her finger and tenderly bopped him on the nose. “Don’t bring anymore presents!”
He was a pain, but she loved him dearly. Bending, she stroked him from head to tail before picking him up and carried him back inside. There were dishes to finish. The view of the robin still busily cleaning his feathers was the best present. She stood for a moment with Chester in her arms and smiled at the robin. Then she closed the door.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wine tasting

I walked up to the door, a half an hour late to the party, hoping my offering was still cold enough. It had taken me over an hour to get there. We were 9 people gathered at a friend’s house to celebrate the last days of summer and taste wine. Planned months in advance we were to taste Sauvignon Blanc, a perfect summer sipper. (Never mind that the temperature was to dip into the 40s.) Everyone was to bring a bottle. I had dashed to the wine shop in the morning and agonized over the selection not knowing what to pick. I knew I wanted a NZ wine from Marlborough. In the end, I randomly picked. It had a funny label.

The host relieved me of the wine as soon as I came in and taped a piece of paper with a number to the bottle, covering the label. We were handed pencils and a scoring sheet. Our wine glasses had our names on paper skirts.

We tried the first wine and looked nervously at our score cards. We were to rate each wine according to color, nose, legs, 1st taste, finish and an overall rating. The scale was 1-5: 1 was rot gut and 5 was melt in your mouth. We peered, sniffed, swirled, swished and sipped. What we found was that everyone’s palate is different. Something that I found awful, someone else liked. It is totally subjective.

There were 6 wines. I’ll skip ahead.

The favorite wine was a NZ 2006 Monkey Bay (the one I brought-wahoo.). The 2nd was a Francis Coppola 2005 Yellow label. There were 2 Australian wines, another New Zealand, and a Chilean. Some people had read up and made their selection based on reviews, while others picked theirs because the host and hostess are movie buffs. As I mentioned I liked the label.
We talked about trying Rieslings next time or Syrahs. It was a fun evening and we all learned something, laughed a lot, bluffed our way through the herbaceous versus fruity nose and made jokes about stubble on the legs as they were not smooth enough.

Have you hosted a tasting? How did you do yours?

Friday, September 14, 2007


The light has changed.
Even with the visor down
The sun’s dying embers burn my eyes as I drive into the west.
The creep of darkness has begun
and will not end until the brittle cold of the longest night.

Leaves are changing
Sun kissed touches of gold and red decorate the hillsides
Glowing in the long light,
Splotches of nature’s paint that will soon run together
then turn brown and fall away.

There is a chill in the air
The kitchen floor is cold now in the morning.
When I skip across it in my robe longing for the first sip of morning’s heat
I am still warm from the comforter pulled up in the night
My bare feet are icy.

Change is good, it is inevitable.
It comes on so slowly that we do not notice
one day it seems to have happened over night.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

I have never seen a purple cactus before. This is its actual color.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 2001.

Six years ago today.

The day was bright and sunny; warm for the time of year. I got ready for work, even left a little early. My commute is usually about an hour, give or take 10 minutes. I had been listening to David McCullough’s biography of John Adams on tape in the car. I pulled out of the driveway, switched off the radio and put in a tape.

Traffic seemed a little heavier than usual. As I got closer to the Tappan Zee Bridge, I remember thinking something must be happening on the GWB. Traffic is often heavy if there is an accident on one of the other bridges. But it was not stopped, only slow.

When I pulled into the parking lot at work, I saw one of my staff pacing and smoking a cigarette. I pulled up along side of him and laughingly rolled down the window.

“Hey, if you have nothing to do, I can give you work.”

He shot back, “What are you talking about. How can I work after what happened?”
I must have looked quizzical, because he followed up with “A plane has just hit the World Trade Center.”

“Get out.” I said. I drove up the row and parked. He met me as I walked toward the office.

“Didn’t you hear it on the radio?”

“No, I was listening to a book on tape.”

I went inside and the office was in an uproar. I cancelled my morning meetings and joined the rest of the office staff upstairs where the Media folks had set up a TV. We all huddled around watching the news as it was unfolding. We watched in horror as the buildings collapsed. We saw people jumping, running, and streams of smoke and paper and ash everywhere.

This is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.

When Mayor Guilani shut down the City, we all wondered if we could get home. People on the east side of the river offered up their homes to those of us who didn’t live close. The Foundation President closed the office. I decided to make a run for the bridge. I figured I could always go north if I had to. There would surely be a bridge open somewhere. The thruway was almost empty. I tried to dial out on my cell, knowing that my family and friends would be looking for me. Many people in the flatland and even those in NJ have no real grasp of exactly where I work and its proximity to the City. The circuits were jammed. I just kept hitting redial.

As I crossed the bridge, I looked down river and I could see pillars of smoke rising. It would continue that way for a long time after the buildings had collapsed.

The office was closed the next day. I went to visit my friend Louise for her birthday. I will never forget her birthday again.

Two other memories stand out.

I sat on my front lawn with my neighbor on a clear sunny day the following weekend. We marveled at a sky with no planes. We talked about what was happening and what it meant to us.

I also remember the 2 pillars of light that honored the twin towers. We could see them from NJ. It was awesome.

What were you doing on September 11th ?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bird Condo

The Saguaro (pronounced sa-wa-ro) cactus only grows in the Sonoran desert. They are symbols of the west. How many times have you seen greeting cards, cookie cutters, sun-catchers, and any number of items in the shape of a saguaro? I think I even have a cast iron cornbread pan with those shapes. On my last trip to Arizona, I really wanted to go to the Saguaro National Park to see them. Lots of them.

They are very slow growing; not reaching adulthood until they are about 125 years old. Birds use them to nest in. Gila Woodpeckers and Flickers peck away at the flesh to make a nest hole that they only use for 1 year. The next year they will start over. Leaving the old holes to be used by other birds. Inside the cactus it can be 20 degrees cooler in the summer or warmer in the winter than the outside air. Some of the big saguaros have so many holes they look like apartment buildings. I looked in many, many of those holes hoping for an Elf Owl.


No luck. But I will be back.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Panting in the heat

I took off my hat to wipe my forehead. I could feel the trickle of sweat slide down my neck. I love the heat, but 112F was even too much for me. I had decided to take a walk on the interpretive trail in the early part of the day, knowing that it would be brutal in the afternoon sun. As I walked along the path I looked for movement in the Mesquite and Cottonwood trees. There were Verdin fledglings flitting in the trees and Wilson’s Warblers beside the river. A Roadrunner dashed out to snatch a butterfly. I saw a covey of Gambel’s Quail poking along the shrub line. As I continued along the 2.5 mile path, the heat began to build and I realized that I had not brought any water. Rats. I decided to turn back.

I was not birding on the way back but striding along. I was hot, sweaty and thirsty. It was only 10 in the morning and already the sun was beating down. I had been out about an hour. I was thinking about a nice cold glass of water and a shower. I approached a shady spot and stopped to fan myself with my hat. In the tree was a Great-tailed Grackle that appeared to be panting. It’s beak was open. A hummingbird zipped past and landed in the shade of the tree too. It was also beak agape and its tongue was hanging out. Interesting, I never knew that birds could pant; or would pant. On the mountain, we do not have sweltering hot days.

In the 4 days I was in the desert, by the afternoon, most of the birds I saw were all panting. I saw this in small passerines, a Roadrunner, woodpeckers, as well as a kestrel perched on the logs outside my balcony. Have you seen this?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Haunting Hotel

We stepped into the cool dim lobby from the blazing white heat of the Arizona sun. After an afternoon of poking around in antique stores, galleries and shops, it was a welcome relief. We stood for a minute to let our eyes adjust and take in the Victorian opulence of the room. The Copper Queen Hotel opened its doors in 1902 when Bisbee was a bustling city. It is a famous hotel for many reasons. We spontaneously decided to spend the night.

As the woman behind the desk was checking on availability and looking for keys (yes, they are still using keys) a notebook lying on the counter caught my eye. On the cover in black marker were the words Ghost Register Vol. IV. Apparently the hotel is haunted and people write their experiences in the register. I flipped open the book randomly to an entry in 2005. A family reported that they heard someone walking along behind them in the corridor, when they turned around there was no one there. Later that night the key to their room disappeared and was found under the bed. I closed the book and shrugged.


We went upstairs to visit room number 301 and 406. Room 301 was lovely; two beds, blue and white striped wallpaper, claw-foot tub. It was fine. We moved on to option 2. When we opened the door to room 406, the Teddy Roosevelt room, we heard water running. We looked at each other. Was someone already in the room? Dave shouted out a "helloooo". Nothing. He went in and found the water was running from the faucet in the tub. Odd. There was no one in the room. Why would the maid leave the water running???? When we went back downstairs we mentioned it at the desk. She poked her head in the back office to report it and then asked if we had turned it off. We looked at each other bewildered.

We opted to stay in 301.

I picked up the Ghost Register and took it over to an overstuffed chair. Perhaps there is more to this. I flipped to the most recent entries. Some people had experiences, some had not. Some were clearly disappointed. Others were nervous and scared. Then I saw an entry from August 25, 2007. The Sims family was staying in the Teddy Roosevelt room and “water in the bath tub turned on by itself.”


I re-read it out-loud. Had we had a ghostly encounter?

We speculated about it over dinner at the Bisbee Grill. After a stroll around the quiet historic section of town we went back to the hotel. I didn’t see or feel anything out of the ordinary. The television in the room did not seem to be working very well, but that could be the remote. The TV's snowy reception I would report in the morning.

While the beds were very comfortable, we slept fitfully. The room was sweltering one minute and freezing the next. For my part, I assumed it was my personal summer issues. But Dave was miserable too. The air conditioner seemed to be working fine. Odd. Maybe we were dehydrated or had had too much wine.

While we did not see or hear anything specifically; I do think there is something going on there. I mentioned the temperature fluctuation in the room to the woman at the front desk. She shrugged and said that it happens a lot. She handed me a flyer on the ghosts when we checked out.

“There are 3 resident ghosts at the Copper Queen Hotel. The first, an older man, tall with a long hair and beard, is usually seen wearing a black cape and a top hat. Some claim they smell the aroma of a good cigar either before or after seeing him. He appears in the doorways or as a shadow in some of the rooms in the SE comer of the 4th floor (near Teddy Roosevelt’s old room).

The second and most famous is a female in her early 30s by the name of Julia Lowell. The story goes that she was a lady of the evening on Brewery Gulch and used the rooms in the hotel for her clients. She supposedly fell madly in love with one of the gentleman and upon telling him, he longer wanted anything to do with her. She then took her life at the hotel. Her presence is felt on the West side of the building on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Some men report that they hear a female voice whispering in their ear. Others claim that she appears in the shape of bright white smoke. The room where she practiced her profession is now named the Julia Lowell Room. (315).

Our third and the youngest ghost is a small boy age 8 or 9, who drowned in the San Pedro river. It is believed his spirit found its way to the hotel because a relative, perhaps mother or father was employed here at the time. He is the most mischievous of the 3. Guests on the west side and also the 2nd and 3rd floors report objects in their rooms moved from one table to the next. A few have reported that you can hear his footsteps running through the halls and sometimes his giggle. Others claim that he is connected with bath water. He is never seen, just heard.” (this is an excerpt from a handout at the Copper Queen).

I encourage you to visit. Let me know if you experience anything. And don’t forget to write it in the Ghost Register.