Sleeping With An Alligator

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My “I-Spy-Wildlife” list is getting longer, with the addition this week of a firefly and an iguana. The firefly was gleaming like a misplaced Christmas light in a bushy palm tree one dark evening. Wondering who on earth would have put a fluorescent green LED there, I was on my way to investigate when it took flight and vanished into the night. Beautiful, miraculous, amazing! Ogden Nash’s verses on The Firefly occurred to me:

The firefly’s flame
Is something for which science has no name 

I can think of nothing eerier
Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person’s posterior. 

The iguana appeared before me on the bike path, popped into the undergrowth and reappeared a minute or two later as I rounded the corner. I didn’t get a proper look at it, so was very gratified when another one (or was it the same one stalking me?) showed up a quarter of an hour later on another bike path in no apparent hurry. An incredible looking creature, wearing emerald-green enamel plating on its body and bright flaming orange and red scales around its head and neck.  Sadly, I didn’t have time to get a photo. I know dinosaurs are usually depicted in muddy colours, but I can’t help trying to visualise Tyrannosaurus Rex in iguana hues. What a feast for the eyes!

My stay in Paradise is drawing to a close. Most of the snowbirds have flown home, and the rainy season is upon us. Being British, I don’t mind rain. In fact, I’m enjoying these showers and deluges with intermittent bursts of sunshine. The temperature is still in the 80’s F (around 30°C) so even if I get soaked as I ride my trike through the raindrops, it’s no hardship. It was certainly needed, and the earth is soaking it all up. The ibis, pelicans, egrets, crows and anhingas don’t seem bothered by it, nor do the rabbits.  I suppose they all have waterproof outer coverings. And the woodpecker is still pecking away loudly.  IMG_2460

An anhinga (also called a snake bird) got into trouble at the edge of the lake a few days ago. We could see its wings flailing and a lot of splashing and squawking, but couldn’t quite see what the problem was. Had the alligator got it by the toe? Was it fighting a fish? A large white heron fluttered across to its side, probably curious, and half a dozen crows started wheeling around cawing menacingly above it. Were they simply waiting like vultures, or would they actually dive and give the victim the coup de grâce, validating the phrase “a murder of crows”?

We were on the point of going out to see what was the matter when a young couple in a golf cart drew up alongside and hurried to the rescue. The bird had caught its foot in some netting that is presumably intended to retain the muddy bank. The man tried to free it using his golf club, but that wasn’t enough so my friend offered him some scissors. He eventually managed to cut away the mesh trapping the anhinga, which was not only exhausted but probably also in shock by this time, as it made no effort to fly away at first. Our neighbours also came out to see what was going on and offer assistance if needed, but the bird then decided it had a large enough human audience, rose gracefully into the air and disappeared on the other side of the lake. That one, at least, lived to tell the tale.  IMG_2430

The anhinga is a very beautiful bird. Its alternative name of snake bird comes from its appearance in the water, as not being very buoyant most of its body is underwater when it swims, and only its long neck and head can be seen, resembling a snake about to strike. It is much like the cormorant in that its feathers aren’t completely waterproof. That has the advantage that the bird can stay underwater longer when it dives for fish, but the disadvantage that when it emerges from the water its wings are waterlogged and it has to sit a while with wings outspread to dry.

Right from my first night here, I have been aware of some slow heavy breathing as I lie quietly in my bed. I made sure that there was nobody else in my room with me, and dismissed the thought that maybe I had a ghostly bedfellow sharing my king-size. The window was open, so the sound was coming in from outside, and I rapidly deduced that something must be slumbering among the mangroves in the swampy nature preserve a few metres away across the road. INNN-hale …. EXXXXhale …. INNNhale … EXXXhale. I needed only to listen to it for a few seconds, and I was instantly in dreamland. I described this to a visiting friend who confirmed my suspicions. “Yep, that’s an alligator.”

Life will seem very dull when I get back home,

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A Place In The Sun …

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Did you miss me?

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No news is good news in my book, so I trust you weren’t unduly concerned! Yes, I’m on that peaceful paradisiacal island in Florida, where the sun shines and everyone smiles – Big Rock Candy Mountain has nothing on this place!

I’m back riding my trike, which gets me everywhere I need to go, swimming 50 laps of the pool every day (before breakfast if I can manage it, when no one else is around) and tending my suntan. My best friend is taking excellent care of me, and I am trying not to be too difficult and inconsiderate – she deserves a gold medal for her patience!

The wildlife here is as fascinating as ever. We have alligators of various sizes, which emerge occasionally from the golf club lakes – the small ones to bask on the grassy shore, the big ones to roar like a lion as they seek the females.

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Signs tell us not “to feed or frighten the alligators”, a reminder that we are just as scary to them as they are to us. The lakes are also home to duck and moorhen families, the little ones strung out behind the parents and paddling as fast as their little legs will go. The adults often join us in the swimming pool, swimming around and preening themselves.  Since they can’t read the sign saying “Don’t swallow the pool water”, they drink it tooI

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I have encountered a softshell turtle three times, twice as she was crossing the road and the third time as she meandered around in our garden looking for a place to lay her eggs. She dug several holes, keenly watched by the iridescent black sea crows who like to eat the eggs, so we added a bit more sand cover for her eggs after she had finished and plopped back into the water. Hopefully, some eggs will escape the crows and the babies will hatch, though I’m told they could take a couple of months, so we aren’t going to see them.

IMG_1072These turtles are strange looking creatures, with a long round nose like a snorkel and a telescopic neck that suddenly pops up periscope fashion to allow the animal to get its bearings. They can move unexpectedly fast, and I wouldn’t necessarily bet on the cute little brown bunnies (which also abound here) if they were racing together.

We have birds galore: a woodpecker who wakes us with his hammering each morning, doves, cardinals, ibis, egrets, herons, ospreys, sandpipers – and of course, pelicans.

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These remind me of pterodactyls, so ungainly when they waddle around on land but graceful as swans on the water and incredible acrobats in the air. What is the collective noun for a large group of pelicans? A platoon? A plethora? A posse? A plunge? They can nosedive at speed into 18 inches of water without getting their bills stuck in the sand, and come up with fish every time. I marvel at their ability to spot the fish in the sandy waves, and wonder how they manage to avoid colliding with each other when they plunge.

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There are also some beautiful plants and especially trees on this island. I brought my water paints with me, but have been too lazy to do much with them. I am enamoured of one particular banyan tree that I have photographed and hope to immortalise in paint before I leave. Or when I get home. One day.

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In the meantime, I’m relaxing and not troubling my little head with all the problems I could find if I wanted to, such as the sale of my house in England and what the insurance company will or won’t cover … it will all work out in the end. Things always do. To quote the Dalai Lama:

“If you can’t do anything about it, why be dejected?
And if you can do something about it, why be dejected?”

Tribute to Miss Sophie

I have this little poem, written long ago, on my Cats and Catterel page – a typical example of my catterel, I think. It’s a tribute to our dear departed Miss Sophie:

Miss Sophie, grande dame par excellence,
Has an air of distinction and elegance,
As she daintily poses her purposeful toes
Neatly and carefully under her nose.

A toss of the head, a disdainful stare,
If you haven’t brought supper, a dismissive glare;
She sits on the staircase and looks through the rails
Listening to gossip and storing up tales.

Oh, how could you think that she’s Little Miss Snooty?
A cat white and ginger, a soft-hearted beauty,
Never was any so misunderstood
As Sophie, who really is gentle and good.

Just look how she dotes on the people who love her;
Remember, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Miaou

High time we had a blog about CATS again, I think, and what could be better that the Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti by Rossini? My favourite performer of this is actually Montserrat Caballé – she is a true pussy cat!

soulgifts - Telling Tales

 ‘Miaou’ means ‘woof’ in cat.
George Carlin

If your cat falls out of a tree, go indoors to laugh.
Patricia Hitchcock

Cats have let us humans into their lives for about 4000 years. They had the Ancient Egyptians twisted around their tales. Seriously – they were worshipped as gods and goddesses. Some of them were even mummified.

From there they moved on to conquer the rest of the world. Genghis Khan, Hannibal, Julius Caesar and Napoleon were mere amateurs in comparison. By 500 BC cats had become the most popular pet in China, continuing on to take dominion in India and Japan. From there they moved on to take over the Roman Empire and Britain where they were declared to be sacred and valuable animals by the King of Wales. Killing a cat was an offence punishable by death.

Something horrid happened to cats in the Middle Ages…

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Horse Sense

Occasionally
Despite the elephant in the room
The ostrich has the best policy
Letting sleeping dogs lie
Rather than disturbing a hornets’ nest
Or opening a can of worms.
So don’t let the cat out of the bag
Or put her among the pigeons.
A wise monkey knows better than
A bull in a china shop.
Instead of telling it straight from the horse’s mouth
Just let the cat have your tongue.

May Day Traditions

“Do you remember the May Day horses and ponies?” asked our neighbour, Stan, who likes to reminisce about the old days. I did, vaguely, but not as clearly as Stan, who is a few years older than me. As a boy, he lived within view of the canal which was still used in those days by bargees to transport goods all around the country. Big strong horses plodded along the towpath pulling the barges, where entire families lived in very cramped conditions. On 1 May these horses would be decked out in their horse brasses and bright gaudy ribbons, a feast for the eyes. In the towns, where many tradesmen had horses and carts, there was often a parade with the wagons cleaned and repainted, the horses scrubbed and brushed with their hoofs oiled, and once again wearing coloured ribbons. Sometimes a silver cup was awarded to the best horse and wagon.

By the mid nineteen-fifties, freight was transported by road and rail rather than canal so the barges were abandoned. In towns, with petrol no longer rationed, most tradesmen swapped their horse and cart for a van or lorry, so those parades also stopped. In just a few areas, May Day parades and fairs continued as a kind of carnival but the flavour had changed.

Happily, we found this local TV report from 1 May 1974, featuring a typical Black Country ‘oss mon’ speaking his native tongue. Perhaps it should have subtitles. (Sorry, this doesn’t seem to work by clicking – but well worth cutting and pasting.)

http://www.macearchive.org/Archive/Title/atv-today-01051974-may-day-ponies/MediaEntry/13919.html

And then I found this, which is a Bavarian flashmob singing about May day fun in yet another delightful dialect!  

Pastorale

Some impressive photos by Tonya at Fourth Generation Farmgirl struck a chord with me, and I remembered a short poem I wrote many years ago.
So with Tonya’s permission, here are two of her pictures and my sheep poem.

cloudsThe sky is a blue meadow overhead
Where the wind rounds up his flock of clouds.
Below, fat fluffy cushions scattered on the green hillside,
The sheep graze
While the shepherd watches and smokes his pipe.
The dog at his master’s feet waits for a word.

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The rain falls.
The shepherd, under his umbrella, smokes his pipe.
Man and dog wait and watch
Wooden figures from a carved nativity.