somewhere else

City

Dallas

Sunset

Sunset

Pelicans

American White Pelicans
(with Am. Coot in background)

Bonus Photo (note: closer to home than above)

Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse (V.W.)

Somewhere Else (SE) constitutes a removal of oneself from fixed behavior chains, thought patterns, and/or emotional states. It does not necessitate a change in physical place, although such a change can certainly strike flame to tinder.

(Photos taken with crappy cell phone camera. Pelican photo taken through binocular lens.)

mr. skeleton’s summer holiday

Mr. Skeleton plucked out a doleful jangle of notes on the ribs of his thoracic cage. The weather was no longer cold. It had not been cold for so long that he no longer recalled winter’s throbbing ache in his bones. Instead his bones were now bleached bright from long hours spent baking in the sun. People averted their eyes when they saw him clackity-clack-clacking toward them. This didn’t bother him. He called it his summer glow.

Mr. Skeleton’s vagabond thoughts wandered to the skull, where it was, whether she was taking good care of it. Ah, the skull, the skull, he mumbled into his clavicle. He wondered if he’d ever see it again. Well, certainly not on this beach in Majorca, he thought, chortling to himself. He took another sip of his mojito and watched the fluid dribble down his cervical vertebrae onto his sternum. Not feeling at all drunk, he wondered idly if that squirrelly bartender had stiffed him on rum once again.

He gazed out at the calm sea, absently tapping his phalanges against his right femur. The percussive nature of his jaunty body pleased him. A woman walked by, nodding her head to the quiet beat. He smiled at her, but it was as if he were invisible. Skins never see bones, he mused. Again the skull flashed across his mental plain, carrying with it an image of the one who took it away, the one whose strong arms he hoped still cradled it. Yes, she saw me, he thought. Maybe it had been her bones peering through skin to my bones beyond. He tried to imagine her, bared of all skin, his bones consorting with hers. Yet was that really what he wanted…he could not say for sure. And so he offered up his bones to the sun instead, taking its heat inside, hoping to fill his hollowness with light.

(with musical accompaniment by XTC, spun by none other than DJ SlimAlien.)

seaside

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there.

Now if this is so, is it not possible—I often wonder—that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence?

—Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past”

I stood in the grass, breathing in stories of stunted pitch pines. The house, grey clapboard weathered in sea air, loomed behind me. I remember walking on zigzagged boardwalks over brackish marsh. Jigsaw puzzles in yellow afternoon light, pouring across the floor like liquid pollen of no real substance. I still hold this yellow light. The stretch and scrape of the screen door spring as it opens, the loud slam as it shuts. Riding bikes down sand-strewn streets. Comic books and chewing gum. Beach grass swaying in salty breezes. The rising dunes in purple evening light.

the tricky truth of time

I have not been to work in 11 days. I will not return for another two. I love this time. I have been taking this break at the end of the year for at least five years running. It has become important to me, this shucking off of the past 12 months in preparation for the new rack of days about to be set.

What happens is a curious thing. The coccoon of time unravels and I am released into a nebulous world of days and hours unmarked by the usual frames of reference. On occasion, I find myself searching my mind for what day it is. Recall is often laborious. When it does occur, I laugh quietly. I lose track of what days the recycling is picked up, when certain shows air on the radio, who among my circle might be working at any given moment.

I know it is morning when the yellow light pours into the sunroom from the east. It warms me over my shoulder as it falls across the pages of my book.

I know it is midday when Farley starts angling for a walk.

I know it is evening when the last light fades, leaving a gloom to settle in the house.

But the weekdays tend to blur into the weekend. Morning hours are in general distinguishable, one from the other, but the afternoon hours caper gleefully, spinning in circles around the maypole, daisy-chaining their elastic selves around my helpless body, freeing me from the snare of routine. They tempt me into running for the hills. Crouching in the thickets, they whisper to me snatches of their secrets, of ‘p time’ and ‘m time,’ with the laughability of it all unconcealed in their twinkling eyes. We are not binding straps, they say; rather we are possibility, we are discovery, we are whatever happens between the beginning and the end.

Soon, though, Colonel Responsibility will beckon with his truncheon for me to trudge down from the hills. Under the hard Colonel’s watchful eye, I will refasten the familiar leghold trap, grinding my teeth as the steel fangs puncture my skin, reopening barely-healed wounds. The yellow light will disappear behind windowless walls. The afternoon hours will sheepishly turn their backs on me, showing me their ugly sides. And I will wonder again about their truth they never fully share.

Soundtrack:  EarthHex: or Printing in the Infernal Method (Thanks, Taidgh!)

escape to hot springs

Some friends purchased a cabin and 15 wooded acres in the North Carolina mountains so a visit was in order. On Saturday we hiked up Max Patch Mountain, a bald mountain in Pisgah National Forest that was cleared for pasture in the 1800s. The Appalachian Trail crosses the top, where lucky hikers are afforded dreamy views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest. Off to the distant west rise the dark ridges of the Black Mountains.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

The trail to paradise.

And then there is the reward…

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Hot Springs, North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains seen from the top of Max Patch Mountain in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.

Such beauty is all the more poignant when shared with old friends.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, a/t on the a/t

A/T on the A.T.

Farley was beside himself with joy for the entire trip.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Farley in his element, bounding through the tall grass on top of Max Patch Mountain.

There were also non-mammals enjoying the outdoors.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Max Patch Trail, Hot Springs, North Carolina

A Common Buckeye butterfly alights on one of the plentiful blackberry bushes growing along Max Patch Trail, Pisgah National Forest, Hot Springs, NC.

Back at the cabin, we cooled off in the creek.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Creek at Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

I walked up the middle of the creek and found damselflies consorting with each other.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Creek at the cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

My walking stick used for navigating the creek.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Scene from creek at Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

For some reason this little sun-dappled tableau struck me. I don’t think it comes across in the photo, but it was the sort of scene into which you wish you could miniaturize yourself for the purpose of better enjoying it.

And here is where we retired for eating, sleeping (although some of us camped outside), and reading during the heat of the day.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Dave & Betty's cabin, Hot Springs, North Carolina

Farley exhibits signs of extreme boredom outside the cabin.

texas trip

Unfortunately, Em El and I were sick with colds during part of our time in Texas, she for longer than me. They were not debilitating colds, but they were an inconvenience (and still are, as we continue to slog along through their end times). We still soaked up plenty of family time, and I even picked up three (!) new life birds, all within the Dallas city limits. Important lesson: never underestimate the value of urban birding! At White Rock Lake, I found an American White Pelican snoozing on a log and a flock of Franklin’s Gulls gathering overhead. These birds were just passing through during migration. The next day I observed a couple of Harris’s Sparrows feeding on seed outside the fantastic Trinity River Audubon Center. This bird is a winter resident in north Texas. None of these birds are easy to find in Maryland, as they are nonresidents and only rarely vagrant in the northeast U.S. during migration.

Other than occasional birding and lots of chilling with the family, Texas involved a lot of eating. Of course we had to sample the best of what the Dallas area has in the way of vegan fare! These included the always delicious Spiral Diner; the newly spruced-up under new ownership 100% vegan Asian buffet, Veggie Garden; a new one for me, Kalachandjis (Dallas’ longest serving vegetarian restaurant, which begs the question of why they never brought me here before!); and a new one for everyone, D’Vegan (specializing in vegan Vietnamese cuisine- soooo good). We also ate plenty of Mexican food naturally, including vegan migas from a new place in Dallas.

Here are a few photos. I took less than I thought. I blame the sickness. Or maybe I was just trying to live these moments, not document them.

The first few are from Trinity River Audubon Center. The wildflowers are Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, TX

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Texas Paintbrush, Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, TX

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, TX

Sign on the wall at Veggie Garden Restaurant in Richardson, TX:

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Sign at Veggie Garden Restaurant, Richardson, TX

Maneki Neko (“Beckoning Cat”) statue at D’Vegan Restaurant in Dallas, TX:

© 2012 S. D. Stewart, Maneki Neko, D'Vegan Restaurant, Dallas, TX

bobcat

In the woods I came upon a young bobcat stalking a rabbit.

My arrival on the scene gave the rabbit the window it needed to escape.

The bobcat rose from its crouch, turned and stared me down before slinking off into the woods.

When I got home a mouse was living in my stove.

Outside a mockingbird splashed luxuriantly in the bird bath.

The orange cat next door was hungry.

I am feeling here and there, but mostly there.

maine

On the outskirts of town, we stop at a used bookstore & antique shop. I pick up a reissue of Black Sun and Em Ell finds me an old Western shirt with snaps down the front. Twenty minutes later as we pull into our place for the week, I hear the first hermit thrushes. That night I crack open the book and read Abbey’s words in the first paragraph: “He hears the flutelike song, cool as silver, of a hermit thrush.” Fiction mirrors life, every single time. If it’s good and true, that is.

Maine’s natural beauty, both rugged and fine, bowled me over. I came as a pilgrim, seeking solace from the noisy, angry city streets, and I left a zealot, prepared to spread the gospel. Maybe better to keep it to myself, I thought later, though, don’t want to spoil a good thing anymore than it’s already been spoiled, which is surprisingly very little, as evidenced by views such as this:

We explored by boat, by foot, by bike, by kayak, and again by foot. I saw and/or heard 62 species of birds (several of them were lifers), a little lower than my expectations, but considering I did very little dedicated birding, not bad by a long shot. We climbed in the mountains, topping out somewhere around 1160 feet. We kayaked with the loons and listened to their haunting song. This particular loon seemed unimpressed with us:

The one day I went out by myself specifically to go birding was cool and rainy. I woke at 6 AM to the sound of steady rain and almost decided not to go. I lay back down in bed, but I just kept thinking about how I am only in this place for one more day. So I went. At my first stop, deep in the park on the western side of the island, I found myself surrounded by ravens scronking their unearthly calls in the trees. I’d hear sounds like churning helicopter blades, and look up to see another raven flapping its wings, off to unknown places. I then found myself slightly off-track due to a confusing turn in the trail. So I returned to the car and drove on twisting gravel roads to the place I was looking for. I’d planned out this excursion using a birding guide to Mount Desert Island. This first place ended up a bust, though. There I was deep in the forest, and all I could find was a robin and some mourning doves. I can find those birds in my backyard any day of the week!  But they don’t get to see this:

A curious thing about birding that you learn early on is that the most beautiful isolated places in the world are not necessarily the birdiest places. In fact, they are often not very birdy at all. Birders often find themselves hanging around water treatment plants, landfills, parking lots, and disgusting ponds behind shopping centers. Birds don’t care what a place looks like, per se, as song as their needs are met. On this particular day in Maine, I was experiencing this phenomenon.  It’s hard to be upset at a lack of birds, though, when there is so much else to look at, such as this White Admiral butterfly.

I left the forest and headed to the western coast, where I hiked in to some land preserved by the Nature Conservancy. This was a tract of towering white cedars, red spruce, and balsam firs that were untouched by the great fire of 1947. The trail, gnarled with massive tree roots, wound a circuitous route to the beach. When it opened up out of the forest, I found singing warblers, most very high in the trees. Busy woodpeckers worked the lower trunks. A winter wren trilled its bubbling song. I only lingered for a little while, though, as I’d already been out for several hours.

Later that day we explored the Wonderland and Ship Harbor trails in the southwestern section of the park. It was quite birdy there, and we saw a bald eagle land off-shore on some exposed rocks where a group of gulls was roosting. The gulls were none too pleased with the eagle and started dive-bombing it.  I forgot the camera in the car during these hikes so I don’t have any visuals.  But here is where we hiked to the very next morning:

After climbing mountains that last day, we returned to home base. I needed to reflect and absorb, as I felt the end of this time nearing and my state of mind already shifting. Near our place, at the bottom of a long cascading series of wooden steps lies a rocky beach. I go there, close my eyes and hear the tide wash in and recede. I open my eyes and see that large smooth stone on the beach as my soul, washed as it has been by the saltwater tonic of this place. I want to distill the salt-laced air, the fragrant pine boughs, the views of aching beauty, the hermit thrush’s song–take it all and fill a tiny bottle to carry with me and open to breathe in as needed. But the grains of my recollections will instead likely drift away over time in the stale winds of the day-to-day. Perhaps, though, if I concentrate hard enough, I can keep some of the uniqueness of what I saw cloistered deep within my mind, where nothing from the outside can ever destroy it.

the city boils as we try to sleep

I was away for a while but now I’m back.  I hope to provide a full report and some photos by the end of the week.  Stay tuned…

minutiae

I wrote a post last night but it was way too introspective to publicize on here.  Seeing as much of what I write here is probably way too introspective, it must have been pretty bad, huh?  Yes, yes it was.  So what has been going on?  Well, I went away for a few days to the beach.  Did some birding over there, but nothing extraordinary.  The mist on Saturday morning worked against us.  Birds were present but it was too foggy to see many of them.  Next day was clear, but birds were on the inaccessible side of the pond, and we had no scope. That’s on the list to get.  On Sunday, I saw my first of year Barn Swallow, flying over the ocean of all places.  Best shot of the trip was probably that of an osprey perched in a tree limb leaning out over a pond, clutching a dead fish in its talon. It was a majestic sight, and in my opinion much more impressive than, say, a Bald Eagle holding some scrap it just stole from a Turkey Vulture.  Many Pine Warblers were present in the pines (natch) but it was still early for most passerine migrants. A few other warblers are being reported elsewhere in Maryland (Louisiana Waterthrush, Palm, Yellow).  In a few weeks things will be in full swing!

We planted the garden last week.  The mesclun mix came up yesterday, but nothing else has poked through yet.  The sprawling multiflora rose (aka “rambling rose”) has been targeted for removal due to its invasive nature.  I hope to replace it with a native shrub, probably one with berries that birds like to eat.

It’s taking me three days to write this entry…

Updates: some radishes and lettuce up now in the garden.  I put out the hummingbird feeder this morning.  Crabapple tree out back is in full flower (white), and the cherry tree out front has shed all of its flowers…pink petals now scatter the yard.  Weather has been in the low 90s (!) past couple of days.  Not good for sleeping.

At work, I sneak away for a few minutes in the afternoon and listen to the house finches sing as I walk around the harbor. One of them has staked out his territory on the Coast Guard vessel and sings his heart out from the very top of the ship each day.  This is all I can do to maintain a few tendrils of sanity.

Another cyclist was killed by a car, this time in the county on a road I’ve ridden often.  The usual “road rights” argument rages as a family grieves another senseless death.

I am weary, and my dreams, when I remember them, horrify me.

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