Cue the banjos if you will…

 “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” 

                                                           Norman Maclean

Enoree river up and muddy

Nolan in the Enoree River when she's up and muddy.

The last time I floated this river was about 27 years ago, when I was lithe and strong and filled with enthusiasm.  These days I am troubled by bad feet, hot flashes, night sweats and anxiety.  I hide myself behind hipster glasses, voluminous clothes and work.  I don’t go out—even to the grocery store—unless it is totally necessary or unless my destination is obscure or anonymous.  I can handle walking around downtown Beaufort.  The local Walmart terrifies me.

So I don’t know what possessed me to float the river yesterday.  Perhaps it was a sense of urgency that the lad will be going off to college in less than two months.  And perhaps it was shame that my husband bought two kayaks four years ago and we have never taken them on the water.  Then there was the nagging knowledge that without something to do, I would sit on my bed all day and read or peck around on my iPad.

The plan was thrown out hastily before the boy scooted out the door to church, “Hey, want to take the kayaks down the Enoree River today?”

Sure, why not? Nolan with kayaks

“I want the green one.” Nolan picks his kayak in 2010, not knowing he wouldn’t travel in it until 2014.

In this household, I am never exactly sure whether or not a plan is going to come together until it is actually being executed.  So I puttered around the kitchen with less than 50-50 odds of the kayaking outing becoming a reality.

When it became imminent that I was going to get in the truck and go float the river, I hastily tossed some almost-random things into a gallon Ziploc bag—K-Bar knife, bug spray, Kleenex, a half a 16 oz bottle of drinking water, a floating solar powered lantern, a couple of individual serving packs of trail mix and because no one should ever leave home without enough bags, I threw in extra Ziplocs.  You might need a few things in an emergency, and only two weeks ago there had been a major search on our benign little river for two boys lost on a cheap raft.

We, it turned out, were so poorly prepared for this maiden voyage that I had to turn around and drive back home to get our PFDs.

Joey canoeing

Portrait of Joey canoeing the Okefenokee swamp near Folkston, Georgia circa 1982. Joey used to be my Enoree canoeing partner.

The Enoree is a silty brown river, medium-sized, and in most places sluggish.  We launched down a vertical bank that was maybe 15 feet high, quite a challenge for this old fat woman.  Immediately we ran into a mess of downed trees low across the water that would become strainers after a hard rain.  If I was afraid of spiders, I would have not made it past the first 100 yards.

But the river opened up and I began to point out landmarks along the stretch south from Lanford Station towards the Highway 49 bridge, including a famous fishing hole on the right bank marked by a big rock.  My daddy had loved to fish this place.

Beaverdam Creek near Lanford Station

This may be my lifer bluegill. 1961 with my Daddy.

My son’s experience with rivers had always been high adventure up until now.  We’ve done the Nantahala several times.  The Black River in Georgetown county.  The National Outdoor Whitewater Center in Charlotte, which is intense.  The salt marshes at Murrell’s Inlet.  The Green River, nestled deep in a gorge in North Carolina.  And oh, yes, the Chattooga when he was fourteen.  I almost drowned, though from a simple fluke and not for being caught in something as dramatic as a hydraulic.  The experience was such that I have never wanted to go back.

I wanted Nolan to know there was virtue in this quiet river.

“Listen,” I said.

Him:  “What?”  Wondering, I guess, what bird song or frog call I was about to point out to him.

Me, “Nothing.  You can’t hear anything.  No traffic, no dogs barking, no chainsaws or heavy equipment.  Nothing.”

Pause.

“You’ve been on a few rivers, Nolan.  All crowded with other boats and rafts.  How does it feel to have the river all to yourself?”

“My daddy always says if there are not cars in the parking lot of a restaurant, it’s because the food sucks,” he said.

Learning to Kayak

Nolan casts from my kayak in 2009.

A good ways before the Highway 49 bridge, he began to ask the cliché child’s question.  Are we there yet?  I waved towards the left bank, the Spartanburg County side.  The land there is one of my brother Joey’s primo spots for birding and herping.

“There’s Joey’s river pasture.  It’s Sunday afternoon.  Maybe he is over there herping.” I said, joking.

We got a little silly and started hollering.  “Joey!  Joey!  Are you over there?”  We even went so far as phoning Joey but our connection was bad.

Then I got occupied with spotting softshell turtles and we rounded a bend in the river and the bridge came into view.

“Look, Mama!” Nolan said, pointing at the bridge,  “There goes Joey!  In his Buick!”

It couldn’t be, could it?  We phoned Joey again and this time the call went through.  He verified that he had indeed driven his Buick across the bridge seconds before.

How often, I wonder, do lives intersect in this manner?  What are the odds that we would be floating kayaks under the bridge just as my brother was driving over it?  How many cars cross that bridge on any given day?  Hundreds.  How many kayaks go under it?  Very few.  The fact that our paths crossed, we recognized it and we were able to communicate with each other instantly is mind-numbing.

 

The River of Muscadines

Old bridge abutments on the Enoree River near Musgrove Mill

Below the Highway 49 bridge is the set of rocky rapids that are sometimes fun.  Not on this excursion.  The water was low.  We spent more time pushing off rocks and dragging our kayaks as we did surging over tiny sections of whitewater.  Our new kayak’s seats were horrible, with zero back support.  If you set your feet against the footrests and tried to push off the bottom with your paddle, there was not enough seat for you to do anything but flop backwards onto nothingness.  Every muscle in my body screamed in protest.  And let me tell you this—if a fat woman wearing a life jacket falls out of the kayak onto her back on the rocks, she is more or less stuck there like a box turtle until someone helps her roll over.

Past the rocky stretch, the river returned to its normal taciturn character.  Silent and slow.

Nolan at Sands Beach, Port Royal, SC

Nolan checks out the beach at Port Royal, SC, where we saw my South Carolina "lifer" bald eagle.

We watched the usual species—great blue herons, little green herons, wood ducks, kingfishers and red-tailed hawks.  For excitement, a goldfinch.  We passed sand bars cris-crossed with the tracks of nesting turtles.  We endured a brief stint of traffic noise while floating under I-26, and encountered an isolated rapid that Nolan went into sideways where he rolled his kayak.

He was grouchy, and the trip seemed to be taking far longer than the two hours I thought I remembered.  I was surrounded by water and yet horribly thirsty. Our moods plummeted. I somehow drew ahead of him, as he was not able to get all of the water out of his kayak after his last spill.

I noticed he was missing and turned to face upriver just downstream of a fun-but-tiny rapid.  I was about to paddle upstream looking for him, but at last I saw the movement of his paddle and then his green kayak came into view.  I enjoyed the rhythm of his paddle strokes, my mind a blank, my back temporarily comfortable.

It caught me by surprise, just over his head, circling out over the river.  A large dark bird with an unmistakable blazing white head and tail, flying so easily that it looked…casual.  I threw back my head and laughed, keeping my face towards the sky to watch for a re-run while I waited for Nolan.  I considered that perhaps he fell behind because he was watching this eagle.

He drew even with me and passed me in stony silence.  I turned the boat back downstream and stroked to catch up.

“Did you see it?” I said.Bald eagle

Nothing.

“Nolan.  Did you see it?”

Nothing.

“Nolan!  Did. You. See. It?”

He finally spoke, “What?”

“The eagle,” I said.  “Did you see the eagle?”

He raised his arm and pointed downstream.  “You mean that eagle?”

Sure enough, the bald eagle was perched on the Laurens County side and flew out over the river.  The white of its tail was blinding.  I broke out in cold chills and my eyes began to tear up.

Bald eagles belong to a subgroup of eagles called sea eagles.  They are seldom seen far from really big bodies of water.  In fact, breeding pairs prefer bodies of water greater than 7 miles in circumference.

Sightings away from large lakes, estuaries and oceans are rare.  They eat mainly fish, with a smattering of other birds, rabbits, rodents and possibly bigger mammals such as raccoons and baby deer.  They also eat carrion.

Birders and herpers call new-to-them species “lifers.”  The first Southern hognose snake of your life.  The first prothonotary warbler sighting of your life.  Your first-ever glimpse of a roadrunner or a smooth green snake or spotted turtle.

Joey Holmes with his lifer Heterodon simus

Joey with his lifer Heterodon simus, Southern hognose snake

This Enoree eagle is not my true lifer.

I saw an eagle in the Florida Everglades in 1980. And while I’ve kept my eyes peeled for an eagle in South Carolina for 55 years, I had never seen one until two weeks ago.  Venturing onto Sands Beach in Port Royal, I gazed out over the salt marsh and spied a bald eagle on a man-made nest platform.  Again, Nolan was my sidekick.

The boy has a knack for seeing eagles.  He saw his first at the age of 13, fishing Lake Murray with his dad, and has seen them on two different occasions less than a mile from our house.

Nolan can call the Lake Murray eagle his lifer, and the Enoree River eagle his fifth.  For a birder my age, it is not that simple.  The Everglades eagle, it is my lifer.  The Port Royal bird, my home state lifer.  But this Enoree River eagle is the lifer of my soul.  My stomping grounds.  My Upstate.  My heart’s river.

 

The lad and I finally rounded a bend near the Musgrove Mill Revolutionary War Battlefield to see a cluster of people, adults and small children fishing from a sandbar and teen lovers bobbing in the water.  We passed close to two encampments and were excitedly greeted by country folk—men clamoring towards us, all with the same question, “Hey!  Where’d y’all put in at?”

Cue the banjos if you will.  Open the pages of Norman Maclean if you prefer.

Scraped, bruised, sunburned, tired and thirsty, we pulled our kayaks toward the bank near the concrete pylons of a bygone bridge to the stares of more recreational waders and splashers.  I was so feeble at that point that I washed through the final rapids, dragged behind my empty kayak, too wiped out to curse the slippery rocks upon which I kept falling.  A float I thought I remembered taking two hours ended up being a five hour adventure, and I was shocked when Joey informed me it was ten miles.

Ten miles for an eagle?  Totally worth it.

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Little Orphant Annie…a scarey poem for Halloween!

a vintage halloween imageCome Halloween, I always think of my favorite spooky story from childhood. This time of year, it plays in my head over and over almost like a broken record.  My dad probably recited it so many times that he was sick of it, but I’ve never tired of this poem!

I have taken it from The Best-Loved Poems of James Whitcomb Riley.  Copyrights given in my copy of this book of poems range from 1883 to 1934.  Riley was known as “The Children’s Poet” or “The Hoosier Poet,”  and his poems were popular in the United States until about the mid-twentieth century.

First published on November 5, 1885, this poem was very popular in its day, and spawned the concept of the more familiar Little Orphan Annie that we know from stage, screen and comic strips.  The poem was based on a real person, Mary Alice “Allie” Smith.  Smith was a real girl–an orphan–who lived in the Riley home when he was a child.  It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Johnny Gruelle morphed the character into the rag dolls and other Little Orphan Annie’s of popular culture.

Riley wrote in a rather heavy dialect, which I have taken the liberty of toning down for re-sharing this poem.  In my opinion, the intentional misspellings and contractions are rather hard on a modern reader’s eye.  In his time, he was loved for his onomatopoeia, alliteration and phonetic intensifiers.

Amazingly, there is a public domain audio recording by James Whitcomb Riley himself.  This “phonograph recording” was made in 1912.  It’s 101 years old.  Enjoy!  Little Orphant Annie recited by James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley poem

Little Orphant Annie

by James Whitcomb Riley

(gently abridged for the modern reader by Jacquelyn Holmes Burns)

Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

And wash the cups and saucers up, and brush the crumbs away,

And shoo the chickens off the porch, and dust the hearth, and sweep,

And make the fire, and bake the bread and earn her board and keep;

And all us other children, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire and has the most-est fun

A-listening to the witch-tales that Annie tells about,

And the Goblins that gets you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

*  *  *  *  *

"An' the Gobble-uns'll git you ef you don't watch out!"

Once they was a little boy who wouldn’t say his prayers,

So when he went to bed a night, way upstairs,

His mamma heard him holler, and his daddy heard him bawl,

And when they turned the covers down, he wasn’t there at all!

And they seeked him in the rafter-room and cubbyhole and press,

And they seeked him up the chimney-flue, and everywheres, I guess

But all they every found was just his pants around about–

And the Goblins’ll get you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

*  *  *  *  *

Once there was a little boy, who wouldn't say his prayers

"But all they ever found was thist his pants an'round about..."

And one time a little girl would always laugh and grin,

And make fun of everyone–all her blood and kin;

And once, when there was company and old folks was there,

She mocked them and shocked them and said she didn’t care!

And just as she kicked her heels and turned to run and hide,

There was two great big Black Things a-standing by here side,

And they snatched her through the ceiling ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!

And the Goblins’ll get you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

*  *  *  *  *

spooky picture

"An' little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue, An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!"

And little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,

And the lamp-wick sputters, and the wind goes woo-oo!

And you gear the crickets quit, and the moon is gray,

And the lightning bugs in dew is all squenched away–

You better mind your parents and your teachers fond and dear,

And cherish them that loves you and dry the orphan’s tear,

And help the poor and needy ones that clusters all about,

Or the Goblins’ll get you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

Retro halloween cat with bats

Little Orphant Annie

by James Whitcomb Riley

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

Onc't they was a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wasn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an' roundabout--
An' the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever'one, an' all her blood an' kin;
An' onc't, when they was "company," an' ole folks was there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

An' little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parents, an' yer teachers fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15240#sthash.wfQEDmno.dpuf

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When the Frost is on the Punkin

childcraft encyclopedia image from James Whitcomb Riley poem

Illustration from Childcraft Encyclopedia

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) was known as “The Hoosier Poet” or “The Children’s Poet.”  This wonderful poem about fall in the country reminds me of my childhood, when I would gaze at the pictures and text in my Childcraft Encyclopedia as my father recited this poem to me.  Probably to Daddy’s chagrin, it was over and over and over. 

This poemalong with The Raggedy Man and Little Orphant Annie–counts as one of my childhood favorites.  However, Riley wrote in an earthy country dialect that is now  cumbersome to the modern reader’s eye.  So I have taken the liberty of toning down the apostrophes, some of the contractions and many of Riley’s intentional misspellings to make the poem more readable for today’s audience.

Sadly, kids today do not have any idea what fodder is, what kind of animal a guinea is, nor do they spend hours immersed in books of poems. 

Childcraft encyclopedia illustration

Illustration is from Childcraft Encyclopedia

When the Frost is on the Punkin

By James Whitcomb Riley

(gently abridged by Jacquelyn H. Burns)

Graphics Fairy old time roosterWhen the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the cluck and gobble of the strutting turkey-cock,

And the clacking of the guineas and the clucking of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallelujah as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the time a fellow is a-feeling at his best,

With the rising sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

 

There’s something kind of hearty-like about the atmospherebotanical pumpkin graphic from Graphics Fairy

When the heat of summer’s over and the cooling fall is here—

Of course we miss the flowers and the blossoms on the trees,

And the mumble of Graphics Fairy beesthe hummingbirds and buzzing of the bees;

But the air’s so appetizing; and the landscape through the haze

Of a crisp and sunny morning of the early autumn days

Is a picture that no painter has the coloring to mock—

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

 

 

 

The husky, rusty rustle of the tassels in the corn,pumpkin and shock of corn

And the rasping of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;

The stubble in the furrows, kind of lonesome-like, but still

A-preaching sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;

The strawstack in the meadow, and the reaper in the shed;

The horses in their stalls below—the clover overhead!—

horses pulling a plowO, it sets my heart a-clicking like the ticking of a clock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

Then your apples all is gathered and the ones a fellow keeps

Is poured round about the cellar floor in red and yellow heaps;Graphics Fairy botanical print apples

And your cider-making’s over, and your womenfolks is through

With their mince and apple butter, and their souse and sausage, too!

I don’t know how to tell it—but if such a thing could be

As the angels wanting boarding and they’d call around on me—

I’d want to accommodate them—all the whole enduring flock—

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

vintage ad for mince pies

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Herping the Light Fantastic

 I just returned from a trip to the sky islands, isolated mountain ranges near the junction of Arizona, New Mexico and Sonora, a magic high-altitude oasis that offers world class-birding and some of the most amazing biodiversity of herpetofauna to be found.

At times I felt simply overwhelmed as I attempted to add birds and reptiles to my life list, literally not knowing whether I wanted to look up…or down.

lizard

My first Arizona herp, a plateau lizard hand-caught at the Southwestern Research Station near Portal, Arizona. A lifer.

For those of you who are not familiar with “herping” as an activity, it is similar to bird watching, aka birding.  Birders try to spot different species of birds and add them to their life list.  It is an established fact that birding field guides have a checklist in the back to this very purpose.

In herping, you are seeking to find, view, catch, photograph and then release all manner of reptiles—lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodilians and amphibians—frogs, toads and salamanders.  The individuals who participate in herping are called herpers.  The sighting of a new species is considered a “lifer,” the same as it is with birding.

This is where all similarities come to a crashing end.

Sky Islands

The Chiricahuas--sky islands--a Mecca for Birders and Herpers alike

Birders can often be found slathered with SPF-50 sunscreen and wearing their matching khaki field clothes and Tilley hats with uber-expensive binoculars secured to their chests by straps to make bearing them more, er, bearable.  They sometimes carry ridiculously long-lensed cameras on tripods, and their soft twittering voices remind you of, well, birds. 

The birder’s natural habitat includes boardwalks and nature trails.  Their preferred diet seems to be granola bars, seeds, nuts, berries and expensive bottled water.  They tippy-toe.  They titter.  And they are as pale as albinos.

Mojave rattlesnake

A venomous Mojave rattlesnake being photographed by herpers, all of whom hold at least one doctorate. Cowboys, all.

By contrast, herpers are cowboys, clad in all manner of tee shirts and jeans.   Some don snake chaps, but many simply wear sneakers.  They also strap headlamps to their baseball-style caps and carry snake hooks and tongs.  And remember this: heaven forbid that you ever mess up and call a pillowcase a pillowcase.  It is a snake bag or capture bag.

Their natural habitat—swamps, deserts, fields and forests.  A favored activity is cruising up and down roads that transect these locations.  Driving long distances at 20 mph, they can suffer from road hypnosis with their eyes glazed over in spot-a-snake mode.   If somebody yells “Snake!” (whether or not there is one) the herper will jump out of the vehicle and run around in little circles, cursing.

Tin at the Southwestern Research Station in the Coronado National Forest, Portal, New Mexico.

Herpers often flip tin looking for reptiles that use it as a "hide." Finding tin is like finding hidden gold. Near Portal, Arizona in the Coronado National Forest.

To get going in the morning, herpers might have to swig coffee and prop their eyelids open with toothpicks after long nights of road cruising, and they guzzle colas during the day to stay sharp.  And as their evening of road cruising winds down, out come all manner of alcoholic beverages.  Beer, by and large, is the preferred one, though the brand trends from year to year, as some of us are quite the afficionado.

Preferred foods include a wide variety of the bad-for-you:  jerky, pickled eggs, red sausages, chips, barbeque, hot dogs.  And sometimes, in the middle of a slow day, a herper just might sneak away for an ice cream cone.

While birders seem polite, orderly, refined and quite knowledgeable about bird calls, herpers are people of a rich and varied vocabulary.  Most know the Latin binomials for all of the species they could possibly encounter, and they know the vocalizations of the frogs and toads in their area.  They can go on and on, ad nauseum about the habitat requirements of the various herp species, and they certainly can cuss a blue streak.

Herpers checking out a glass lizard

A glass lizard poses for the paparrazi. Can you tell which ones are birders and which ones are herpers?

A birder may just tippy-toe off a trail to have a little peep at a swallow-tailed whatchmacallit, but a herper will plunge headfirst into a ditch in order to grab a retreating Lampropeltis. Sunburn, skinned knees, ant bites, groin rashes and cactus spines are de rigeur for a field herper.  In fact, coming home without such badges of bravery just might expose one as a weakling, subject to ridicule. 

Baby bird

Photo of a black-throated gray warbler fledgeling, taken by a herper with ridiculously tiny camera who happened to observe it being fed by its mother at very close range!

Return home with leeches and abrasions and you will be long-celebrated as a hero.  Pick cactus spines out of your behind for six years and are a legend.

Birders observe.  Herpers touch.  Birders enjoy decorum.  Herpers are anarchists.  Birders are tidy. Herpers surrender to entropy.

Birder=alt-folk, pop, jazz.  Herper=heavy metal, country, blues.

Birder=butterflies and rainbows.  Herper=ground-in dirt and black soot from a recent burn.

Stay tuned for my next blog with actual herping adventure in the desert Southwest!

Spider

A tarantula assumes a defensive posture while being admired by herpers near Portal, Arizona.

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Angles and Apertures: A Photo Essay of the Carolina Winter

An old baptismal pool's angular wall contrasts with the free-form flow of the spring behind it. The baptistry once was used by Beaverdam Baptist Church, the oldest brick church in Laurens County. Bricks for the construction of the church were made on-site.

Piles of cow patties highlighted against an overgrazed and muddy pasture have always defined late winter in South Carolina for me.  Like a city street photographed in black and white, there is a certain bare grittiness about it.  The pale tan of the pasture.  The dark brown of the muck where cattle push and shove for access to the hay.  The black piles of manure scattered randomly among it all.

skull of a Procyon lotor

The skull of a raccoon rests on the leaf litter

It paints a picture of a struggle for life against all that is cold and wet and meager.

Stark is the perfect word for a Carolina winter.   The very opposite of lush, it is represented by angular light that reflects off bare limbs and trunks.  There are no canopies of green leaves to diffuse the light.  It bounces off of the trees like they are pewter mirrors, dull and spare.

A fallen tree leads the eye to an opening into what you could imagine is another dimension.

I find winter a great time to walk in the woods, scouting for the upcoming turkey season or even next fall’s deer season.  I can see a long way.  Without leaves to interrupt the view, things the next ridge over define themselves. My eyes are drawn to foci that are different—an abandoned fox’s den dug into an embankment, the way a vein of boulders seem to rise from the soil in an organized fashion, the skeleton of a raccoon.  A turkey feather, splotches of owl manure like white paint on brown leaves, water seeping from rocks and the back of an old boat cushion all catch my attention.

Winter, you see, presents itself as a study of light and dark, texture, angles and apertures.

Yet among the hollows, bones and various scattered human artifacts, there lurks the promise of life.

An invasive plant, nonetheless the Eurasian water milfoil brightens up the stark March landscape.

Shoots of new growth rest just beneath the surface, and here and there they push through the leaves. Buds sit on tree limbs, ready to burst themselves open when the time is nigh.  I see things to come in the brilliant green of the invasive milfoil and in the humble yellow of a dandelion blossom.

Come, go on this walk with me.

A study in texture, a dead dogwood trunk lies partway across a path.

Breaking bleak--late winter's harbinger of spring, the dandelion.

whitetailed deer anters nailed to a barn

Stark against weathered barn wood, the bleached bone of these antlers somehow emphasizes that it is still winter.

a hole in a living tree forms aperature

A hole in a living tree forms a lens-like aperture--almost as though you could step through the looking glass.

a vine clings to an old house

A woody vine sinks its fingers into the wood of an old house.

fungi on a log

Curled edges of lacy white fungi punctuate the dark trunk of a fallen tree.

Moss on rock--vegetable meets mineral

A series of boulders on the south side of the creek look as though a giant stonemason cleaved them and left his project unfinished.

a deadfall tree with a hollow center

Aperture--a hollow tree

a series of boulders

Out of place in the Piedmont landscape, a series of boulders descend a steep hillside to the stream below

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Jewels of the Carolina Winter

Ambystoma maculatum

Two spotted salamanders dancing cheek-to-cheek

It is March, cold and muddy, just like a South Carolina upstate winter should be.  Our pickup slips and slides in the mud along the river of muscadines but Joey Holmes finesses the two track and we don’t have to engage the four-wheel drive.  There’s a hint of mystery and excitement.   Joey’s wife’s cousin Leon Cook is here from Maine, and we are on our way to find some spotted salamanders!

Chances are you could live your life in the upstate of South Carolina and never see the official State Amphibian, Ambystoma maculatum.  These hidden jewels spend their lives underground in wooded areas.  This is oversimplifying things a bit.  They have rather specific habitat requirements.

Vernal pool that hosts breeding salmanders

This inauspicious upstate pasture hosts the party of the year for the official State Amphibian of South Carolina.

We run a gauntlet of cattle gates with Leon as gate man before Joey parks the truck beside some open flooded timber.  Quickly Leon and I gather binoculars, cameras, tripods and cell phones while Joey arms himself with a potato rake for turning over muddy logs.  He strides towards the first log with purpose while I whisper to Leon that Joey is like a salamander savant.

“He knows which logs they are under and he turns them in a specific order.”

We work through this temporary wetland with Joey turning over semi-rotten logs adjacent to the water while Leon and I wait for the salamanders.  We are not rewarded instantly, but have to work for our prizes.

Winter is the salamander’s mating season.  The spotteds work their way down from the forest and hide under logs near temporary wetlands called vernal pools.  These pools are filled with winter rainwater now but dry up during the summer, so they contain no fish.  This makes them ideal for the salamanders, because there are no fish to eat their jellylike egg clutches.

Abystoma maculatum pair

Freshly baptized by Joey, these two spotted salamanders pose for their glamour shots

During this time, the salamanders can be found under logs as they wait to deposit their eggs in the nearby water.  Once mating season is over, the spotteds will retreat to their underground home in the forest, where they eat worms and insect larvae.

Ambystoma maculatum, cranium

You can see my self-portrait reflected in this salamander's shiny head.

Joey has herped these vernal pools for well over twenty years.  We are soon rewarded with quite a find—two robust and beautiful spotted salamanders practically cheek-to-cheek under one log.  Leon and I photograph them in situ, experimenting with flash and camera settings, before Joey takes the salamanders out and places them on top of the log for more photos.

Their little bodies, about seven inches long, feel as cold as ice and surprisingly dry, with bits of rotten wood and dirt sticking to them.  The ambient temperature is about 42 degrees.  Joey takes a bottle of water from his pocket that is easily twenty degrees warmer than the salamanders and washes them off for the photos.  In spite of its relative warmth, you can practically see the spots gasp as he douses them.

Ambystoma maculatum

Plump female in situ

We find a total of four spotted salamanders.  One is ridiculously fat, and Joey says, “This fat girl hasn’t let go of her eggs yet.”

Leon and I remark on the texture and temperature of the spotteds.  They are cool and dry, and with their fabulous spots, they seem like jewels of the Carolina winter.  I can’t imagine why everybody isn’t out wearing rubber boots, looking for them with a potato rake.

“Hmmrhh,” Joey rumbles.  “Some herpetologists call them gummi lizards.”

I can’t help but laugh at this.  They do look and feel like gummi bears.

Joey keeps careful records, and knows the salamanders by their spot pattern.  They have a dark brown to black background color with two lines of offset yellow spots along their top line.  Near the head, the spots may be orange or almost red.  I marvel that he can tell them apart by their patterns.  But in real life, he has a little help from his meticulous record-keeping.  He takes photos he will later compare to past photos to see if he has ever found these individuals before.

Ambystoma maculatum

"Gummi lizard"

Spotted salamanders share this wetland with a similar species, marbled salamanders.  I tell him I hope we can find some marbled and he gestures with the potato rake and says, “They’re more likely to be over there.”

“Why?” asks Leon.  “Do they have a different habitat that the spotted?”

Ambystoma maculaum

A rare chance to hold one of these treasures

“No,” Joey concedes.  “They seem to be the same.  But they like it over there, perhaps for reasons known only to themselves.”

We don’t locate any marbled salamanders on this trip, but all four of these spotted gems turn out to be new-to-Joey.  Fair enough for a cold March 1 in the Upstate, herping in winter.

 

All salamanders are documented and released unharmed after their glamour shots.

Upon comparing photos of these salamanders, Joey says he has found eleven new-to-him spotted salamanders this season.

I will add these individuals to my list of “Spottings” (no pun intended) on my www.projectnoah.org.

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Cataloochee. Another NABventure in the Can…

September was slipping away, and with it, our opportunity to visit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park without having to drive an armored vehicle and wear shoulder pads.   October brings out an army of leaf peepers hell bent on seeing the prettiest fall colors ever.

Elk in meadow at Cataloochee

Lone bull in meadow at Cataloochee, NC

And so it came to be that I tiptoed up to my son’s room and disrupted his slumber at five o’clock.  I beckoned him to come downstairs and shower quietly to avoid waking his father.

By 5:35 a.m., Nolan and I hit the road for our latest NABventure.

Another NABventure

Nolan demonstrates that every NABventure has a jumping off point

Way back when his father and I were going through potential baby names, we were mindful of any acronyms the child’s initials might spell.  We hit upon his name and noted—to our delight—that his initials spelled out NAB.  For the uninitiated, “nabs” are what country Southerners call the little cheese and peanut butter Lance crackers that come in packages of six.  Simple working folk in the South don’t take coffee breaks.  They break for a coke-a-cola and a pack of nabs.

So when the lad and I head out for parts unknown, we call it a NABventure.  Sometimes, little cheese crackers are actually involved.

Our destination in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park was the Cataloochee Valley. The reason for our trip there is that elk have been reintroduced into the park.  Before European settlers came, elk were native to most of the country.  But the last elk in the Smokies were extirpated in the mid-1800’s.  The Eastern elk subspecies is extinct.   The initiative to restore elk to the Smokies took flight in 2001 with a handful of animals brought from the Land Between the Lakes herd and was supplemented by Canadian imports the following year.

If you look at a map, Cataloochee is right off I-40 just beyond Waynesville, North Carolina, and quite close to the popular tourist destination of Maggie Valley.  It appears that it would be easy to get there.

Uh, not!

We made exit 40 at 7:30 a.m., came off the exit ramp and almost immediately found our right turn marked by signs.  And we proceeded on a vertical journey that soon left even

iPhone panoramic view

The iPhone with new iOs 6.0 will take panoramic views

pavement behind.   I squinted at the screen of my iPhone and read directions aloud, “Stay to the Right (at one point, the road will “Y”) Road becomes gravel, and very narrow…proceed UP mountain with caution.  After reaching summit, proceed down same gravel/narrow road.  At the base of the mountain, road bears to the left and becomes paved again.”

I am mortally afraid of twisting turning mountain roads and high bridges.  I’m not talking a little bit scared.  I’m talking lie down in the seats.  I’m talking places where I will get out of the car and walk rather than be inside a vehicle negotiating certain tight spots.  I’m talking medications are really needed.

Farmhouse in the Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley Farmhouse

This did not go well.  That part of the journey is 10 miles long.  The dirt road is one lane.  There are no guardrails.  A sixteen year old male was driving.  I was beside myself, digging my nails into the armrest and pressing my right foot through the floorboard.

There is no telling how many times I begged “Slow down!” or beseeched the deity I worship to help me.  Near the summit, my prayers were heard and I was helped by scads of chipmunks in the road.  I would holler “LORD!” with one breath and “Oh, look at the cute little chipmunk!” with my next breath.   Chipmunks, you see, were present in unprecedented numbers and they are some really pretty little squirrels.  They were a welcome distraction.

Amazingly, the road is paved in the valley.  It’s a mystery as to how they got heavy equipment in there to pave it.  I wanted to stop, get out and kiss the pavement, and I vowed to never return.  At least not without Xanax.

Cataoochee valley barn

Barn

Just past the ranger house and the small campground, the Cataloochee Valley opens up into a series of broad meadows.  Nolan focused on the wild turkeys, which were everywhere, but I immediately spied a bedded bull in the field, a nice 6×6.  We passed a man walking a well-behaved golden retriever and I spotted a herd of elk in the field on our left where perhaps a half dozen cars had pulled off the road and parked.

In the chill mountain air, several people were photographing a bull and his harem of cows with cameras that I’m sure cost more than some cars.  There were guys with lenses over two feet long and as big around as my thigh.  I got out my binoculars and fleece pullover to the music of bulls bugling up and down the valley and Nolan whipped out his iPhone and began taking pictures.

People with cameras and elk

Elk paparazzi seeking that perfect shot

I had neglected to bring my tripod and a charged battery for my camera, so we were stuck with our iPhones.  Compared to the serious photographers with their obscenely outfitted cameras, we felt a little like David facing Goliath.

Some of the elk wore radio collars and ear tags, but the herd bull was a splendidly naked 7×7.  He guarded his harem and bugled back when a challenging bugle came from up the valley.  The animals were very close.  Cows and calves feeding to our left brought them ever closer to the line of tripods and cameras.

Dominant bull elk

The splendidly naked herd bull. Photo courtesy of Nolan Burns, taken with this "Redneck Zoom Lens."

Calf nursing his mother

A calf nurses, oblivious to the excitement. Taken with our "redneck zoom lens."

A cow elk is not a tiny little deer.  But a bull is enormous.  Much taller than my horse and armed with about a hundred pounds of sharp headgear, he is a testosterone-charged monster all but bellowing smoke.  As his harem came closer to the cars and photographers and the dog walker came back up the valley, the bull became somewhat nervous.

He began running at the cows and circling the harem, keeping between the cows and the line of paparazzi.  There are park rules against using elk calls and rules about how close you can get to the elk.  The elk were oblivious to the 50 yard limit. Through no fault of their own, many of the onlookers and photographers became too close.  The bull trotted towards the road.  The closest guy folded his tripod and beat a retreat.

Nolan scooted behind the truck.

The dominant bull gives chase to a radio-collared cow

Our Redneck Zoom Lens captures love in the the air

He is always openly skeptical about each NABventure.  In fact, sometimes I don’t let on that we are actually on a NABventure until we are in the truck and halfway there. Earlier this year I sneaked in visits to a Revolutionary War battlefield and the Sumter National Forest.  Just tell him that he gets to drive and he will get into the truck.

On this outing, Nolan seized the day and saved the day.

“Mama, give me your binoculars,” he said.

Nolan’s idea worked.  He stuck his iPhone’s lens up to the binocular lens and began to photograph the elk through the binoculars.  A similar attempt of mine failed a few days before, when I tried my iPhone against my microscope lens at work.   But he was able to get some decent shots with his “Redneck Zoom Lens.”

Belting out a bugle

Herd bull sounds off. The bull elk's loud whistles are called "bugles."

Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States.  In spite of the Appalachians being right in the backyard of most people in the Eastern U.S., they are rugged mountains, nearly vertical.  I’ve visited and hunted elk, deer and turkeys out West.  Many take the Rocky Mountains seriously and take the Smokies for granted.  People, these are some serious mountains.  Don’t take them for granted because they happen to be in your backyard. 

Cataloochee take home points:

  • It’s really hard to get there!  Take everything you think you will need, including nerve pills for the drive in.
  • No fee to get in the park.
  • There is no visitor’s center or store of any kind.
  • There is a public bathroom which is handicapped-accessible but it does not have running water, electricity, climate-control or a baby changing station. There is a dispenser of hand sanitizer.
  • There are old buildings from before the park service bought the land—barns, a school, a house, a church.  You can and should go in them!  They are our heritage.
  • There are hiking trails but you can see the elk quite well from your vehicle or side of the road.
  • Elk are most active 2 hours after sunrise and 2 hours before sunset.
  • The park is most crowded during the summer and during the month of October.
  • The elk rut is in September-October.  Bulls are bugling and mating is occurring then.  Ideal times to see rutting activity and without having to fight crowds would be mid- to late-September.
Subordinate bull with radio collar

Subordinate bulls are often referred to as satellite bulls

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That Old School Bell’s Gonna Ring Loud and Long…

The other day I ran into an old friend.  We were in school together from the 6th grade until high school graduation and started to reminisce.  I teased him about a pretty unpopular teacher that we shared for 7th grade English who unfortunately followed us to the high school.  We had her again for 9th grade English.  Some poor folks even had her three years in a row.

She berated him constantly–whether he was doing anything bad or not, and I can still hear her calling him out in class,  “Mark Burke, you so mannish!”  My husband suffered a similar fate in her classes:  “Tommy Burns, you are grinning and that means you are up to no good!”

At any rate, I asked my friend who his favorite teacher was.  His answer came as a complete surprise to me.  I had in mind all of the great teachers we had in high school, whether physics or chemistry or 12th grade English lit.  But he shocked me by again reaching back into the 7th grade at old Ford School in Watts Mill and saying, “Well, Jackie, I guess it was your daddy.”

Another shared teacher, my daddy Jack Holmes taught us 7th grade science. I had almost forgotten that.

Surprised and humbled, the best I could do was blurt out “Why?”

“See, it’s funny what I can remember about school and what I can’t,” he said, “but I can remember specific questions on tests he gave us.”

Yeah, right, I thought.  “Name one.”

But he did.  “True or False.  Astronauts cannot eat in space because they can’t swallow.”

I had to think for a second, because it seemed so obvious that it sounded like a trick question.  My friend went on to explain the answer, that yes, they swallow because the muscles do the work of pushing ingesta down into the stomach.  The question made him think and made an impression on him, so I began to think of teachers who had made an impression on me.

My favorite teacher was 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Anna T. Mims, an exquisite lady who somehow took Silas Marner and inspired in me a love of literature that shapes who I am today.  I also adored the almost bashful and halting delivery of algebra-trig and physics teacher Mr. Ben Miller, the precise and demanding Chemistry teacher Mr. Harold Ligon, the irascible U.S. History teacher Mr. Tommy “Sub” Sublett,  strict government teacher Mrs. Rosemary Johnson and Mrs. Keith Oakes, who prepared us well for college with senior English lit.

I spent so many years in school, from Ford to the high school to Wofford College to the University of Georgia.  It would never have occurred to me that anybody could remember specific questions on specific tests.  Later on, I searched  my brain to see if I could recall any test questions.

They were all in college or vet school.  There was the infamous social ethics test at WoCo given by Professor Walt Hudgens, who passed out blue books and then said, “There is no test.  But I want you all to sit here and write in your blue book for at least an hour.  You can doodle, draw, write love letters, whatever…just pretend that you are taking a test.”  The class was flummoxed.  I chewed on the end of my pen for a few minutes staring off into space, then furiously started to write.

Of course it was a test, and on one of the ethical dilemmas we had studied.  Not as good of a test as the previous year when he came in the room, threw a rubber chicken on the desk and said, “Prove that this isn’t God,” but a test nonetheless.  He graded our blue books. I made an A+.

Another Wofford test I remembered was in the second day of class in Dr. H. Donald Dobbs’ freshman zoology.  Each fall he’d start with about 150 would-be doctors filling the lecture hall and rather quickly weed out those who weren’t cut out for medicine By the end of the four years, roughly a 12 to 14 of us actually made it into medical, dental or veterinary school.

Dobbs did it starting on the second day of class with a pop quiz on Latin and Greek prefixes, suffixes and root words.  Most of us, myself included, bombed the quiz.  Why would we think to study our dead languages for zoology class?  In fact, we probably represented the first generation of students who didn’t have the opportunity to take Latin in high school.  Tenacious, I hung in there and made it to the end.  In fact, on the biology class senior comprehensive exit exam, I scored  #1 of 19 graduating bio majors, edging out top rivals who went on to become orthopedic surgeons and gynecologists and dentists.

Another test that sticks in my mind was in vet school’s Public Health class, Dr. Brown’s infamous Caribou Test.  Most of my eighty-odd classmates bombed this test, which could have been on something important like tuberculosis in cow’s milk affecting everyday milk consumers.  Instead, 100% of the test was on the obscure cycle of brucellosis in caribou, wolves and native peoples in Alaska.  I aced the test, mainly because I enjoyed thinking about going up to the last frontier and hunting some of those pretty little caribou with my deer rifle.

I barely remember dragging myself out of bed, driving to the vet school and taking Dr. Clay Calvert’s cardiology final.  I had the flu so I called him and he would not let me out of taking the test.  I was out of my head with fever, but did about as well on the test as anybody else, as none of us could fathom Dr. Calvert or what he wanted from us come test time.

Small Animal Anatomy’s final lab practical was a doozy.  Dr. Peter Purinton took dogs and cats that we had dissected in the traditional longitudinal fashion and sawed them in cross-section, sticking pins in nerves and muscles and veins that we had never seen from that angle.

But the most interesting single test question I recall is from the practical exam in large animal anatomy.   Our only classroom blurb in poultry anatomy had come on the last day of class, “Chicken Day.”  On Chicken Day, Professor “Arvle the Marvel” Marshall divided us into groups and each group was assigned an organ system.  We had to make up a skit about our organ system and it was a big joke.  Nobody gave a rip about a chicken unless it was barbecued at a fraternity party.

The question was posted at the base of an articulated chicken skeleton.  “What gender is this bird?”  Hurt yourself thinking if you wish.  I got it right, but then I was the only student who could identify the bacculum of a raccoon when a dairy farmer hosting us for herd health lay it on the table and asked us what it was.

Next week, school starts again.  For better or worse, teachers are leaders who shape our lives even as they struggle to get through their workdays and their own lives.   Their classroom time is only part of their job.  There is lesson prep and there are forms to be filled out, bus duty and other hoops to be jumped through for the school system.  There are tests to be graded.  They give to their schools with pride, show up for ball games and open houses, encourage and inspire.  I feel that a single simple act of kindness and caring from a teacher may make the difference in a child’s life.

As Jack Holmes would teasingly say to us before the first day of school every year, “That old school bell’s gonna ring loud and long in the morning.”  I still run into people he inspired, from 6th grade at Enoree School to Laurens Primary to Ford or Sanders or Gray Court to the ball fields or boy scout camp.

What an amazing gift.

 

 

 

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Maiden Voyage

My son got his driver’s license yesterday.

I hadn’t realized how hard it would hit me until I left the office and stopped by the grocery store for a few things.  I ran into our pastor and I must’ve looked stricken, because he asked me if I’d had a hard day.  My thoughts came rushing out about my new driver and I knew he’d understand as his youngest daughter is my son’s age.

Coming home from the store, I crossed the creek, cruised up the hill past the chicken houses and met my son  in the road  by the neighbor’s dove field. He was alone, driving his big white-and-gold F-250 and he had the windows down with the breeze ruffling his hair. He stuck out his arm and gave me a big wave and a smile.

For this maiden voyage he drove back roads down to Mountville, where there is definitely no mountain…and no stores. There’s just a P.O., a church, an old school used as a meeting hall for the grange and a volunteer fire department.   The highway was moved years ago and it doesn’t even go through the settlement any more.

A hilly tar-and-gravel road named Ginger Creek  leads from our road down towards Mountville.  It winds past woods and farmland, crosses the creek and makes an inexplicable hairpin turn around an broad old white oak and passes beef cows grazing in knee-high fescue.  My son and my husband used to cruise this road together on our golf cart.  The route must’ve felt familiar, safe.

The boy took time enough, it seemed.  I imagined him with the stereo cranked on some country station,  stopping, caressing the dash, maybe setting a spell in the parking lot by the Mountville First Baptist,  texting his friends  and then moseying home–where I paced and looked out the windows, waiting somewhat restlessly for a cloud of dust.

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Yes, I am a pirate.

OK, so if I'm not a pirate, at least I've got a tugboat named after me.

It’s safe to say I’ve been aware of Jimmy Buffett since high school—from his initial hit, “Come Monday.”  I can even remember being in Mrs. Keith Oakes’ English literature class my senior year.  Someone had a guitar there for some official reason and between classes,  class clown Mark Burke picked it up and began to play and sing “Margaritaville. “

That’s all well and good, enjoying those two radio hits in the 70’s, but like many now-middle-aged, college educated middle-class men and women, there was a time when I was called to Buffett, surely as I received a call from the Lord to come down front while heads were bowed and the pianist quietly played “Just As I Am” .   It was, I remember, some ten years after that alter call, in a car with some college friends on the way to Florida, mingled with some Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Rogers and even David Allen Coe.

Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard you call.

There was an intense period of immersion that followed my conversion to Parrotthead:  Son of a Son of a Sailor, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, A1A, Living and Dying in ¾ Time, Havana Daydreamin’ and A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean.  I listened to them over and over and over and memorized every line.  I played them on the old turntable and was careful to run, jump and pick up the needle so my parents wouldn’t hear me play “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” or any parts on the live album You Had to Be There where there was cursing .  The irony is that nowadays my mother loves her some JB and you can bet she and my daddy knew, knew we played “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” when we thought they couldn’t hear.

Known for sculpting his own genre and elevating it to cult status as well as for  his diversified marketing genius, Jimmy Buffett never enjoyed a lot of Top Forty airplay.  It’s just as well.  He’s done more to influence other musicians and keep his fans boogieing than just about any other public figure I can think of.

Last week I read a blog by a blogger called Preacher Mike.  Mike lists his top ten and ties them into his Christian belief system.  Inspired,  I have come up with my Top Ten List of Jimmy Buffett songs:

10. Incommunicado (Coconut Telegraph)  With a tip of his hat to Travis McGee and a palpable moment of silence for John Wayne, JB captures the essence of times when we all need to retreat into ourselves, go away and just be non-communicative.  This song actually inspired my visit to Cedar Key, a sleepy Gulf hamlet way off the beaten path—where I enjoyed the local delicacy, smoked mullet—and, as always, it’s not a waste of time “taking the long way home.”

9. The Wino and I Know (Living and Dying in 3/4 Time)  I’m on the right track with this obscure JB song because when I posted a few lines from it on Facebook yesterday, people I’d never thought of as Parrottheads answered my post with more great lines from the song.  Distilled down to its meaning, the song illustrates that there are intangibles in life that can be grasped and appreciated by children, drunks and even songwriters. And I hope one day to make it to Café du Monde for coffee and beignets.

"God bless Johnny Cash"

"I got a Carribean soul I can barely control/And some Texas hidden here in my heart."

8.  There’s Something So Feminine About a Mandolin (Havana Daydreamin’) –  I strongly considered the title song for this list.  Strongly.  But this song paints such a vivid picture–a pasture in central Texas, a graceful young woman bent over her instrument, the high lonesome sound of the mandolin.  It reminds me of the time I saw a young bartender, a fit brunette in hiking shorts, finish her shift and pick up a guitar to belt out songs by the potbellied stove in Luchenbach Texas.  This tune’s  message is of simplicity, feminine grace and of the things we love that we hope to pass on to our children.  “When I get older and I have a daughter/I’ll teach her to sing/And play her my songs/And I’ll tell her some stories I can barely remember.”

7. Migration (A1A) How many of us have gone introspective, “Looking back in the background/Tryin’ to figure out how I ever got here”? There is the bashing of Yankee tourists in “mobile homes that cover the Keys/I hate those bastards so much,” somewhat of an ecologist’s rallying-cry for sending them back up north towards Disney and preserving the keys habitat and vibe.  This song also deserves to be on my list because it contains the very definition of JB’s public persona “I’ve got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Texas hidden here in my heart.”

6.  He Went to Paris (A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean)  Simply epic JB.  A human life well-lived is full of ups and downs. Yes, you can boogie your ass off until you die.  In fact, it’s the only way to consider living.   “Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic but I had a good life all the way.”

5.  Tie:  If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me (Last Mango in Paris) and  Coast of Marseilles (Son of a Son of a Sailor)  They’re essentially the same song, odes to love and loss.   “Would you be remembering me, I asked that question time and again?” I’m pretty damn sure the answer is yes, and yes, the phone isn’t ringing, so I know it’s you. We move on, but there are wistful times of remembrance for all of us.

4.  Captain and the Kid (Down to Earth) I sure wish I could get the chance to climb on my grandfather’s knee again and talk of things he did.  This song captures the essence of a child’s relationship with a grandparent.  Someone who wows them, fills them with wonder.  My Papa Julian sat in front porch swing and blew smokes rings for our amusement, made up silly songs and told stories that would never pass inspection by the politically correct.  In my head I have rearranged Mr. JB’s lyrics to fit my papa: ” I never used to miss the chance/To climb upon his knee/And listen to the many tales/Of life in Enoree.”

3.    A Pirate Looks at Forty (A1A) I’ve heard my teen-aged son say this was his favorite JB song and I understand why.  “Mother, Mother Ocean/I have heard you call.” The ocean draws Homo sapiens to her just like moths are drawn to a flame.  The hypnotic crash of the waves, the sure and steady rhythm of the changing tides—embody the circadian rhythm of life,  life which is full of adventure and uncertainty.  Even if we were born two hundred years too late, there is a pirate in each and every one of us.

2.   Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season (A1A)   Every now and again, we in the landlocked upstate of South Carolina experience what I call a squalls out on the gulfstream day, a day where it is overcast and not too hot with a balmy breeze.  There is some kind of front coming through, a low that’s just right—you can feel it in your inner barometer.  ” It’s time to close the shutters; It’s time to go inside.”   You have to confess, you could use some rest, and this is the perfect day to do it.

1. Cowboy in the Jungle (Son of a Son of a Sailor)  “I don’t want to live on that kind of island/I don’t want to swim in a roped off sea.” Buffett is really for everyone.  Everyone has a longing to chuck it all and go sailing, to end up somewhere when the money runs out and live in the moment.  It’s almost Christ-like to think of giving up worldliness and know that some way, somehow, your daily needs will be met and your life will be richer.  What JB offers Parrottheads is a slice of redemption, the idea of escape from daily pressures that sets our spirits free.

I’ve asked my son Nolan to write up his own JB top ten list, so stay tuned for his list and maybe his comments.  And check out Precher Mike at :  http://preachermike.com/2011/04/19/top-10-jimmy-buffett-songs-caribbean-soul

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