Birds of a Feather


December started with a show-off of a full moon, rising just behind our big oak to illuminate a rough lace of branches.



Then, as winter showed its intention to stay, I headed to Florida for a week.


Any visions I had of fun in the sun were abruptly quashed.


After a first busy morning when I was unable to get outside to enjoy the warmth, the wind whipped up, a front moved in, and the temperature plummeted.


Even the hibiscus flowers were tattered at the edges by the cold and wind.


The rest of the week, until the morning I left (of course) remained unusually frigid for Florida.


Pelican ornaments.  The most mature ones are highest in the tree.

Whether weather-related or not, the underwater dock light was packed with feeding fish all week, but they weren’t the usual snook, who lurked sluggishly around the edges. The snook were displaced by raucous hordes of ladyfish, darting about as if on vacation, eating everything at the buffet. Our friend who has been fishing at the dock for decades, said he’d never seen anything like such masses of ladyfish before. They are too bony for good eating, but were fun to watch.


There are compensations to cold weather in Florida.


Almost empty beach.


One bird.


And plenty of shells.

Mostly, everyone (but a few loony Northerners) stays inside.


Well-insulated surfers.

Since Florida’s population is booming to the point of congested agitation to me, I enjoyed an almost empty jetty and beach.


On the other hand, the birds also made themselves scarce. With the exception of an osprey couple nesting at the marina, which seemed to be everywhere, eep-eep-eeping as they patrolled for fish and did whatever else ospreys do.


But at the jetty, there were only one or two anhingas and a few pelicans.


Fortunately for me, I love anhingas and pelicans.


They fascinate me and photographs reveal the details of feather, feet, and beak that can’t be properly appreciated with normal eyesight.




The week of cold was accompanied by high, cutting winds.


Those winds whipped up feathers, drawing my attention to the different feather types and patterns of these birds.




Brown pelicans are common as dirt in Florida and from a distance they are attractively prehistoric looking.


But with the camera’s lens, their feathers are transformed into things of subtle textured stunning beauty.



As for the anhingas, these ordinary looking birds likewise transform into feathery splendor when they spread their wings to dry, looking like birdy sentinels until they start grooming.




Then their long necks perform sinuous gymnastics, reaching every part of their bodies in seemingly impossible contortions.


Anhingas swim underwater for long stretches and, curiously, some of their feathers remind me of otter fur.


A few years ago, I took photos of a male anhinga in mating season in late January, when they develop green circles around its eyes.



Apparently December is too early for mating because the only anhinga braving the cold on this trip had brilliantly red eyes, with no green circles. I believe this one was a female.



For the first few days, I saw no egrets at the jetty, but on my last morning, a whole line of them were fishing.


Their feathers used to be used to adorn hats.  Gorgeous they are, but much better on the bird.





I just spent a week with my mother in Florida, navigating the perils and indignities of very old age.  My mother is ninety-three and some of her body parts have outlasted others.  She is still doing pretty well physically, but two strokes and creeping dementia have limited her ability to talk and to remember.


This trip was unexpected.  I did not have much time for photographs (or blogs).  But, even so, the photographs I took show why we are trying to keep my mother living in her own home as long as possible.

IMG_2317Her yard is full movement and color, with anoles, flowers, and birds.


Her dock is a fish magnet and the sunsets and moonrises are extraordinary.


Fortunately, most days she manages short walks around her neighborhood circle or down to the jetties, where there are ospreys and manatees.



It’s hard to tell from these shots of a bit of back and flipper, but this was a manatee mother and calf.


It’s a lovely place, although getting very crowded.



My mother’s mother would hardly recognize it.


But it has been a constant in my mother’s long life for almost 60 years.


My mother’s favorite expression these days is ay-ay-ay-ay-ay.  That pretty much sums up my feelings about this trip–full of stress against a backdrop of beauty.


Road Zombies

IMG_7023.jpgWe are home after a whirlwind drive to Florida to visit my 92 year-old-mother.  For various reasons, it had to be a quick trip.  But we were able to sneak in two nights to enjoy time (and some awesome meals) with our son and daughter-in-law in Georgia.  The drive was strictly a means to get down south and back as quickly as possible–no dilly-dallying for sightseeing or exploring.  In other words, interstate almost the entire way. IMG_6791

It’s a drive we’ve taken many times before.  When I was in college, a friend and I got a ride with a couple in a Volkswagon van who drove straight through–24 hours from Massachusetts to Florida.  They dropped us off in Daytona Beach and we dove into the ocean fully clothed–it felt so good.  On another memorable trip, when our kids were young and both sets of grandparents lived in Florida, we headed there for Christmas.  An unexpected snowstorm closed the interstate in Georgia just as we were coming through.  Fortunately, we snagged a hotel room at an interstate exit.  Others were not so lucky and had to bed down in the lobby.  The hotel’s Chinese restaurant–the only food option–was absolutely overwhelmed.  It took several hours to get dinner, but there was that wonderful festive atmosphere that often arises among strangers stranded together in travel.   IMG_6813

Nothing so exciting happened on this trip.  We took I-95 through New York City, the industrial ugliness of North Jersey, and then Baltimore and the Washington DC Beltway.  IMG_6818Not very pretty.  Bridges, tunnels, and billboards.IMG_6768IMG_6824.jpg


In south Georgia, billboards for “adult entertainment” were interspersed with billboards warning of impending eternal damnation.


The Walking Dead series is filmed in Georgia and, fittingly, a whole series of religious billboards there featured zombies.

Sandpaper eyes, antsy legs, sore bum, hour after hour of road, road, road.  We did our best to avoid traffic by hitting the cities on weekends.  But there was always traffic and more traffic, sometimes jammed and creeping along for no discernible reason.


The brave souls ahead of us drove their Class A RV through I-95 in the Bronx.

We had a slice of gorgeous weather in Florida and watched the installation of a new dock in front of my mother’s house.


The metal tube was used to pound in the dock pilings.

The sunsets, as usual, were stunning.



Since her hip surgery last fall, my mother doesn’t walk as far as she used to.

IMG_6932Even so, we found plenty to look at in her yard and on a walk around her neighborhood.



This gargantuan tree was in full bloom and covered with birds sipping nectar.  I don’t know what kind it is and the owner didn’t either.  Does anyone know?  Update:  It’s a Bombax or Kapok tree.


IMG_7036IMG_7010IMG_6950IMG_7041IMG_7004IMG_7046Then, back in the truck, for three more long days of driving.


We enjoyed a lovely misty morning during our brief time on back roads in Georgia.


Georgia pecan groves


New York’s George Washington Bridge.


A view of the New York City skyline from the bridge. I shot this so fast, I had no idea there was a bike rider passing by.

I used to enjoy these road trips to Florida.  Not so much anymore.  We couldn’t wait to get home.IMG_7140

A Day in Venice (Florida, not California, and certainly not Italy)

IMG_5563My grandparents discovered Venice, Florida in the 1950s.  It was a sleepy town on the Gulf coast, frequented by snowbirds, driving down from New England, the Midwest, and Canada for the winter months.  I visited there almost every winter when I was growing up in the 1960s, getting horrific sunburns that peeled for weeks, collecting black fossilized sharks’ teeth on the beach, and ogling the tattooed circus people around town.  Venice then was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  The Flying Wallendas and Gunther Gebel-Williams, the “lion tamer,” were local celebrities.

The sun and sharks’ teeth remain, but the circus is long gone.  Of course, Venice is much more developed and crowded now.

A 1959 view of Snake Island near the Venice jetty.

A 1959 view of Snake Island near the Venice jetty.

What is left of Snake Island today.

What is left of heavily-eroded Snake Island today.

But it retains some of its former charm.  It has a palm-lined downtown area, with 1920s architecture, full of shops, restaurants, and well-off retirees.  Even though I now am retired, I continue to view Venice as a place full of OLD people, just as I did when I was a child.  Everyone seems to be in some stage of old age, from the fit, tennis-outfitted newly-retired, to bent-over ancients holding up checkout lines as, with glacial slowness, their arthritic, shaking fingers pick out each penny and dime for exact payment.  Sightings of children are rare.

We headed to Venice this week for a quick visit with my 91-year-old mother, who has lived there for many years.  It was a six hour drive each way from St. Simons and we only had three days (between physical therapy sessions) for the trip.  We arrived to a sunset, with blue clouds massing over the Gulf, resembling a distant mountain range.


The next day—our one full day there—was glorious and sunny, with a mild breeze.  My mother doesn’t venture too far afield these days, but every morning takes a leisurely walk down to the jetties, picking up litter as she goes.

The Venice jetty usually has power walkers, fishers, and a variety of birds.  This day was no different.



That’s Nokomis on the north side of the inland waterway, with its own jetty

The most striking birds were the anhingas perched on the jetty rocks drying their wings.  They are amazing underwater swimmers, but their feathers become waterlogged, so they spend a great deal of time drying and grooming them.


IMG_5557Their eyes develop bluish green rings in mating season, which must be in full swing given these colors.


Neither people nor birds were catching many fish. Instead, the birds seemed to be taking advantage of the sun and wind for extensive grooming.

This pelican did a thorough grooming

This pelican went through huge grooming contortions

and then settled in

and then settled in.




IMG_5626IMG_5613On the way home we watched this big pelican perched very high in an Australian pine. He looked like a pterodactyl.

IMG_5685Back at the house, we watched the birds in the yard and the ospreys nesting on a nearby channel marker.

Doves perched high in a palm

Doves perched high in a palm


Osprey nest with the twin jetty in Nokomis in the distance

Osprey nest with the twin jetty in Nokomis in the distance


We toured the yard and its flowers.


And sat and watched the boats go by.



Zoe napped in the shade

After dinner out, we returned to the tail end of another glowing sunset.


It was followed by the appearance of the moon—just a sliver—and Venus, lingering over the marina.