Chicken Little and Big Isaac

Sometimes Mother Nature overtakes the reading road as it did last week. Hurricane Isaac arrived on the seventh anniversary of Katrina. We no longer say “Hurricane Katrina” because she is famous enough to be known by one name. Once again, we had to decide whether to outrun a powerful weather event, or hunker down. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” I couldn’t shake the refrain from that old nursery story, Chicken Little. We heard it everywhere because we, along with countless others along our Gulf Coast, had lived through the utter devastation of Katrina. For those who may not be acquainted with this tale, Chicken Little got bopped on the head with an acorn, and started a comical chain of events. Everyone he met heard his extreme warning, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”Jim and I busied ourselves with preparations while keeping an ear to announcements of coordinates, tropical development, and water temperature. We knew what was coming.

Every creature in the path of the 30-odd feet of rolling wave as Katrina made landfall has his own sensory and emotional memories of all that happened on August 29, 2005. Most of us have photos which can only begin to show the dimensions of Katrina’s effects. So many words have been put to paper that I have chosen to wait, to think deeply about it from the perspective of time elapsed. Now that we have felt the fear again, I can talk of it in relation to the way it is part of all nature rather than an isolated incident. A hurricane isn’t one malevolent tree in a dark fantasy forest; it’s one force of an entirety which drives the forest and all other systems around our planet.

The world’s cycles were here before us. They continue to prove that they are more powerful than all our advances. They catch us unaware, though we have the intelligence to expect them, put them into perspective. All the aspects of our lives that we treasure bow before the forces of nature. A hurricane is simply one way to know that we are not in control. Love and loss, joy and grief; these wax and wane throughout our years. The moments between the raindrops are triumphs, sparkling in their fleeting intensity. They remain in our subconscious alongside the terror. We store them, but sometimes forget to call them up when we are faced with another unknown. A hurricane is a time to remember, to listen, to see and feel more than what is obvious.

Certain Indians are known to have burned all their belongings every few years so that they would not become dependent upon material possessions. Hurricanes sometimes rid us of ours, because none of us would have the courage of the Indians. Of course, Indians didn’t have computers and TV’s and iPhones and, especially, all the photos which hold the faces we love and our best days. We assign such value to our possessions that we are forever in their service, often failing to live fully in each day. I know this, but am guilty.

I try to be thankful for the things I cannot control. They usually are things which make me realize how human I am, and how I would tremble to have complete control. I can see that there would be no right decision for all, and the weight of responsibility would seem unbearable. The best we can do is protect those within our reach, those we love, and those who need understanding. This example of forbearance is present in all of nature, so all we have to do is pay attention. When the howling, assaulting wind finally quieted on Isaac’s third day, and the rain became a silent silver sheet across the landscape, I looked up to see a lone seabird winging across the gray ceiling outside. It probably followed water farther inland than usual because of Isaac’s tumult. The bird was headed south toward the beach, so one more mile would offer it a more familiar place. Things would begin to look more as they had the week before.

And so the sky is not really falling, all you Chicken Littles. All signs of approaching autumn are murmuring that the annual cycle is undisturbed. Migrating hummingbirds zoomed through the heaviest downpours of the hurricane to circle the end of the back porch where their feeder, full of nectar, had hung. As soon as I was able to re-hang it from a climbing rose branch, their staccato chirps were in my ears. The Duranta, now more tree than shrub, dripping lavender flower clusters and golden berries, is host to a few dozen bumblebee drones – male bees banished from the colony once their job of fertilizing the young future queens is done. Now they fly and feed until they soon die. The female worker bees have died, and those fed, fattened and chosen to become new queens have searched under leaves and quiet sheltered places to hibernate until next spring. We hope that hurricane season is having its last hurrah of 2012. The moon is full, the silent drama is performed; the sky is not falling. It is full of stars.

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Snapshots two days post-Katrina from our golf cart:

A video clip of Isaac’s third day should appear as soon as I can complete edits.

From Black Bears to Bumblebees

In an earlier post, I said that one thing always leads to another along the reading road, a.k.a., my life. Mental meandering has so often become fascination, so “over the river and through the woods” from black bears to bumblebees seems natural. Good science requires time and patience; getting to the last page isn’t exactly instant gratification. It’s more like a treasure hunt where you have to dream, delve, and, often, literally dig in the dirt. Complicating all this is the fact that I have a family, with all the maintenance, surprises, holidays, advice given and taken or not, and daily love which often present detours around any other project underway. During all the stirring of pots and bandaging of bumps, thoughts and curiosity tug and won’t leave, ever.

A few years ago, I returned to academic life and jumped into a course in environmental literature. While reading and researching, I began to think about black bears with their history and their present state. Their decline affects so much more than the bears, themselves. A phone call put me in touch with a wildlife biologist who introduced me to a couple of experts studying bears in other states, and we began a five-year discourse, including particular details of radio-collared bears and others in the wild. I tried not to be side-tracked by more creatures, like birds and bees, but habitats in two states were a big playground/discovery center for me. I couldn’t know that this would lead to a rare invitation to accompany biologists into the field one summer to capture a black bear. Armed with hundreds of facts and years of study, I joined them in Tensas National Wildlife Preserve in northern Louisiana. My husband, Jim, carried my cameras and field equipment, and off we went.

Our ATV rumbled along through dense brush beneath towering old giants of oak, American elm, green ash and sweet gum. Palmettos had been grouped to form a path to a brush-covered foot snare that would not harm the bear. A nearby paw-paw tree yielded its melon-shaped fruit as well as a sack of raspberry scent (visible in the photo below). The coup de maître were honeybuns hung from trees and scattered in the brush just beyond the snare. With five traps laid, would luck be with us?

Anticipation was palpable that early morning. After finding the first trap empty, we moved on toward the second a few miles away. We found bear tracks crisscrossed with raccoon tracks parallel to a row of randomly bent corn stalks and nibbled cobs along a corn field bordering the woods. Around a bend, suddenly, “There she is!” A female black bear had flattened a 15-foot circle of brush permitted by the length of her snare attachment and sat in the middle registering typical displeasure by an intermittent snapping of the jaws and blowing with the lips. Then noises in the brush directed us toward a huge elm about 20 feet into the dense embankment above a crook of a tributary of the Tensas River. We watched a fuzzy cub heed its mother’s guttural signals and scamper to a vantage point on a limb about 25 feet up the trunk. A small, solid black head would alternately peek and retreat behind the limb, tiny ears at attention. We judged it to be about five months old, and approximately 15 pounds – about the size of a cocker spaniel.

Female black bear secured by foot snare. Note raspberry scent sack in tree.

Black bear cub

We needed to work fast so Mother Bear could return to nursery duty. We tranquilized her with a dart, examined, weighed and measured, and then outfitted her with a radio collar for tracking and further research. Care was taken to allow for any weight gain before the collar would wear away in a year or two. A glance up to the leaf canopy revealed a fast-asleep cub stretched out full-length, squirrel-fashion, belly flush and four legs limply dangling from either side of the limb. I knew there were yet a couple of fleeting minutes for me to rub the head and back of this wild creature in repose — silent minutes eloquent enough to convey to the most skeptical the value of preserving its kind, indicator of the well-being of so many other species of our forests and, ultimately, man. There is much more about this day, and my longer account was published in the Louisiana Conservationist magazine.

Me, with female black bear

Not letting go of black bears, and that one special black bear, fast forward a few years through new technology and new ways of communicating and publishing. One sleepy spring morning along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I opened the back porch door and was overcome with the fragrance of blossoms, the incessant hum of an undulating halo of bumblebees around our Meyer lemon tree, the music of water spilling over the fountain bowls. I forgot breakfast, grabbed my camera, and that’s how my first ebook was born. The words wrote themselves in my head, and I forced myself to turn back to the house to write the story for children, to help them understand. They need to know that without these quiet, ongoing activities underfoot, out of sight, on the wing, here and gone in the space of moments, we would not exist. It really wasn’t such a stretch from black bears to bumblebees. It was logical/magical.

I hope you’ll let yourself enter the world with new eyes. Grab a book about what catches your imagination, really see, walk and hunt, poke under things, ask questions and find answers. There are friends connected to those answers. You will be comforted, surprised, thrilled. It works. Whether black bears to bumblebees, or anything else, you’ll see how everything is truly connected. You’ll make sense of your happy unlikelihoods!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attention All Junior Writers!

Since it’s summer vacation for students, this is a great time to enter THE READING ROAD SUMMER WRITING CONTEST. Go to the JUST FOR FUN page and click “Contests” to read all about it. The winner will be awarded a prize and be published here on The Reading Road where all your family and friends can see your entry.

While you are waiting to learn if you are the winner, you might want to try something I once did. During one summer vacation from elementary school, I made a neighborhood newspaper (which was a lot more work, but seemed like more fun than being in school). Since I was the roving reporter, columnist, editor, publisher, and then the delivery girl, it didn’t leave much time for getting into my usual mischief. The summer went really fast, and I loved writing about anything I thought would make a good story. Some of the neighbors weren’t too sure, but they seemed to be pleased to be featured, for the most part. They actually enjoyed my science column about birds, butterflies, and types of neighborhood pets. My cooking column was almost a disaster because I asked some of my mother’s friends for recipes. Some of them were ghastly, and I couldn’t be “choosy” without hurting feelings. I decided to share only my Mom’s and Grandmothers’ recipes because they were the best cooks. If you decide to try a newspaper or newsletter, you may want to include some friends and work together. A parent or neighbor would probably be happy to act as editor or type your stories and columns.

I’d love to hear about any reading or writing projects you do this summer, and I can’t wait to get your contest entries!

A Perfect Father’s Day Gift

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking of a gift from rather than for my father. When I think about it, though, his gift to my brother, David, and me turned out to be something we continue to give in his memory. It’s a gift he would have loved most of all – the continuation of what he instilled through the daily exercise of his story-telling, his wit and humor, his great humanity toward everyone, and his uncommon bravery. We absorbed all this as a completely natural part of our days.

This was never more evident than on the June day that David was born. Mother was welcoming him on the maternity floor of the hospital while I recuperated from a tonsillectomy in a room on the ground floor. Daddy divided his time, and my grandmothers made sure I had a flower in my hair each day from the huge bouquet Daddy brought. At that time, hospitals were not air-conditioned, and rules limited the number of overnight family members. Daddy stood outside my window, open just enough for me to hear him, and told me Uncle Remus stories in the authentic voice of each character until I fell asleep. I made sure this took a long time. When it probably seemed like an endless “just one more” from me, he launched into my favorite horse stories about the adventures of a girl named Diane and her pony. Happy dreams for me! Before we left the hospital, Daddy told me he had a big surprise for me. That was the day he took me upstairs, threw open a door with a grand gesture, and we saw my smiling mother holding my new brother. Daddy knew how to create an unforgettable moment.

There were special times with Daddy for David and me. We built homemade kites from newspaper comics, and learned to love the ocean. Whether shopping for groceries with him, making homemade ice cream, or doing anything, we had fun. He always shared food with family and neighbors, and always knew exactly how to make them laugh and feel loved. This, and a keen business sense, are traits that David, now a father, mirrors from Dad.

It’s remarkable that, though he didn’t live to see us grown, he was able to give us what every father strives to give his children. He gave us the gift of appreciation for each day, the confidence to believe in ourselves, and the strength that comes from strong family love. These are the building blocks of any life. We are so lucky!

 

 

 

Sharing National Poetry Month

April is special for many reasons – a bird nest in every one of the nestboxes painted by our daughter, four in bushes, roses filling the trellises and blowing petals everywhere, Easter eggs still in the fridge, extra reading and exploring time during Spring Break, and it’s National Poetry Month!

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry, like music and art, speaks to the soul. We identify, smile, feel comforted by various forms of word patterns. Whether realistic, abstract, colorful, inspiring, funny, solemn, reverent or irreverent, there are poems for every time in life. For me, it isn’t always necessary for a poem to provide an answer or a definite conclusion. Sometimes I’d rather interpret the words my own way. The main joy in discovering a poem is that it evokes emotion.

I have far too many favorites to list. Some follow strict literary form, some are free verse; I love haiku and tanka, and limericks. My journal is full of all kinds of poetry, and our fridge sports poems which change from time to time.

Here are a couple that I have written for children’s magazines and for the children in my life. I get grins and lots of funny comments which makes writing worthwhile. Sometimes the words come first, and other times I capture a photo which gives me the words. I’m rarely without my camera, paper, and pen. Here they are:

Best Friends

I have a little puppy                            

I love her very much.

She rolls with tummy uppy

when she first feels my touch.

I scratch her chin to belly

and hold her in my lap.

Her legs go soft as jelly

and she stays to take a nap.

I see my best friend’s sleeping head

resting on my knee.

What does she see with her eyes

when she looks at me?

The Magician

I sat on the porch by a plant in a pot                               

Watching an ant cross a big waterspot.

Then out of the leaves popped a sleepy-eyed head

Like the color of clay or a strange rusty-red.

It turned this way and that and looked sort of mean                                       While I watched it turn into a bright shade of green!             

I wanted to ask how the heck it did that, but

Before I could speak it leaped onto my hat.

I waved my hands wildly all over the top

But the thing disappeared in the leaves with a PLOP!

Here’s one by Wendell Berry for the adults in our children’s lives:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me                  

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought        

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Happy reading and writing during Poetry Month, and every month of the year.

The Number One Spot

Time management has never been more important to me than now. I have a new e-book, on-going work on two more, marketing plans, a terrific husband – and our daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is a perfect example of “Life happens while you’re making plans.” All the plans get rearranged and re-prioritized, with the family always landing in the number one spot.

Thanksgiving, 2011, found me, as usual, preparing for a festive family day. The day before Thanksgiving, I had finally completed the edits for my first e-book, and returned the manuscript for final formatting and publication. All my treasured heirloom recipes from both grandmothers and Mother had been retrieved from their files, ingredients assembled, kitchen appliances utilized to the max. My husband, Jim, was busily chopping and often asking, “What next?” We are a finely-honed team in the culinary/entertaining department.

Thanksgiving Day was full of good food and thanks, just as we had planned. Our daughter spent the day with her husband’s family, but we had a full table at our house. The next day brought a shocking answer to Jim’s “What next?” in one of those time-stopping moments. It came in a phone call, while Jim chopped more vegetables and I wrestled a turkey carcass into a huge soup pot.

“Ring, ring.” I grabbed a kitchen towel and remarked that this was a heck of a time for the phone to ring. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Mom.” That one word, in that one tone, put me on instant alert. All parents know what I mean. “Can you put me on speaker so Dad can hear?” That’s how we learned that our daughter, Jeannette, has cancer. We looked at each other with the same parent thoughts speeding our heartbeats. In an instant, all our “what next’s” changed.

Now, four months later, we are immersed in wound care, chemo schedules, blood tests, nutrition and hydration, blood pressure and temperature monitoring, battles with fatigue. Yes, there was the surgery, the waiting, the staging, the lymph node involvement, the complications and setbacks. Months of this will give way to radiation, and then probably two more surgeries.

“How is she?” everyone wants to know. If I had to tell you in one sentence, it would be, “She is a brave soldier.” She gave her long, silky hair early because she said, “Somewhere a child is waiting for this.” (Jeannette has donated her long hair twice before, while she was in peak health, so that a child with hair loss might benefit.)

My “Day by Day” blogs may not be as often as I’d like, but know that every experience we have is stored away until the moment it is needed to take its perfect place in a written thought. This website began as a road of discovery through reading and writing for children. It is just exactly that as we read, write, and discover along this road we walk with our daughter.

This is an illustration from www.tracybishop.com which is such an inspiration for all the rainy days in our lives. It’s full of bright hope and determination as we paddle our boats through the raindrops. Tracy graciously gave me permission to post it here.