Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A dragonfly for Halloween?

It's almost the end of October so I suppose it's fitting to post a picture I recently took of a Halloween Pennant Dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) posing daintily on the curled tip of a spiderweb-adorned cattail.

Named for its orange and black wings (the Halloween part) and a propensity to flap in the breeze like a flag while attached to bare perches (the pennant part), the Halloween pennant dragonfly is a familiar sight on our lake.

I especially like this picture, however, not so much for the dragonfly - lovely though it is - but for the curled tip of the slender cattail reed upon which it chose to perch.  Something about that spiral curve sets my heart aflutter.  Combined with the Halloween pennant's pretty profile it becomes a special end-of-October picture.

Taking flight

It was early morning.  It was chilly outside, which made the mist hang heavy over the still water.  I was sitting in my rowboat along the shoreline at the lake's north end about 50 feet away from where our resident pair of sandhill cranes spend the night when all of a sudden the birds took off.

They do this every morning.  They spend the night on a tiny island in the lake, then in the early morning just as the sun is beginning to rise above the treeline, they preen their feathers before flying off.

This morning, however, I was in the right spot at the right time to catch these beauties just as they were lifting off.  It was my birthday and of all the presents that day brought, none filled me with as much joy as this one picture capturing a moment long to be remembered.

Some of my photographs, including "Taking Flight" are now available - for sale through Fine Art America.  You can purchase pictures in assorted sizes on a wide range of products including Greeting Cards, Art Prints, Canvas Prints, Acrylic Prints and Metal Prints. Matted and Framed Prints are also on the site.

This is a new venture for me so I would sure appreciate any feedback or comments about the site, its ease of use and the pricing.  Thank you!

Photography Prints

Monday, October 27, 2014

A day when doing nothing is more than enough

A great way to start the day

Ever since the beginning of the month, my husband Ralph has been asking me what I want to do for my birthday. My answer has been consistent:

“I’m thinking about it,” I’d say. And I really was.

I thought about when I was out for my morning row and when I was drifting off to sleep at night. I even thought about it off and on during the day while making dinner, washing dishes or driving around town doing errands. I thought about it often, but I had no answer.

Then one morning it came to me. I don’t want to do anything. More specifically, I don’t want to do anything that involves doing things I don’t really want to do.

For instance, going away is an option Ralph has mentioned. He loves the beach — a bit more than I do — and whenever we spend time there, we enjoy the ocean and our time away from the unending demands of home. With that in mind, I considered a trip to the beach for my birthday or to any of several other not-too-far-away places where it might be fun to go.

But even a short trip involves the gathering together of stuff, packing and unpacking, then doing it all over again when it’s time to return. It involves sleeping in a different bed and cooking in a different kitchen and driving in a car with a partner who doesn’t much enjoy driving in a car for any distance longer than 20 miles. All things considered, going away just seems like too much effort for too little return. Nope. I don’t want to go on a trip for my birthday.

We always have fun at the beach but going anywhere involves so much packing and unpacking as well as travel time, which is not nearly as fun as actually being there

There’s a certain allure to seeing a movie and going out to dinner.

For most people, a restaurant meal and theatre ticket is a solid, sure-to-please present, and I’d like it too — if the picture I saw were a romantic comedy. So I checked my local multi-screen cinema, which is less than 20 miles away, and although the schedule on their website lists 25 pictures currently playing, none of the movies fit the bill. If frightening flicks, tragic love stories or mutant Ninjas were my thing, I’d have plenty of choices but finding a well-written, feel-good movie with a happy ending is much more difficult. Apocalyptic-terrorist-thriller-blood-and-gore films dominate the cinema scene. Romantic comedies? Not so much.

Why aren't there more movies like When Harry Met Sally?

That leaves going out to eat. A restaurant meal is usually relaxing, assuming you share the meal with an amenable companion. However, my husband is not what you’d call a restaurant aficionado. He likes to eat certain foods prepared in a particular way. Unfortunately, his idea of a perfect meal — with rare exception— doesn’t match that of any local restaurateur. After years of trying unsuccessfully to find a nearby dining experience he’d enjoy, I finally gave up. We eat at home now, and that’s fine with me. I like our way of eating too.

In the following clip from When Harry Met Sally, Harry explains to Sally why she's a "high maintenance" woman.  What is not said is that being "high maintenance" is not restricted to females alone...

So what did I do on my birthday? Exactly what I said I’d do. I did only things I enjoyed.

I got up early and went for a row while the lake was still thick with morning mist. I watched the sunrise over the trees, went for a meandering walk through the woods and took dozens of pictures. I ate delicious meals that Ralph and I prepared together and while we ate, I watched chickadees, cardinals and a tufted titmouse at the birdfeeder.

A cheery little chickadee

I allowed myself time to escape into a good book, to sip tea and to talk to my children on the phone. In the evening, I cuddled with my husband on the couch as we watched some favorite shows and before going to bed that night, I went outside to see the stars to catch a glimpse of the waxing crescent moon.

The crescent moon

Birthdays have always been special to me but that doesn’t mean special days have to involve fancy gifts, getaways or elaborate dining experiences. Sometimes the best way to celebrate is to savor the moment and let your heart swell with gratitude for simply being here in this amazing world. For me, on my birthday, doing nothing is more than enough.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Twice the excitement when two eagles visit the lake

I don’t usually see bald eagles on our property. They aren’t regulars like the great blue heron, white egret or the resident pair of sandhill cranes. Nonetheless, every now and then, an eagle drops by to survey the surroundings. It’s usually perched on the bare branch of a dead tree standing along the shoreline of the lake.

Twice during the past year, I was lucky enough to spot an eagle bathing in the shallow water — an activity I had never seen before — and one time I chanced upon an eagle attempting unsuccessfully to snatch a small duck out of the water.

The lake is a perfect 'tub' for an eagle's bath

A bit of feather fluffing and preening proceeds a good bath

On each of those occasions, I saw only one eagle, but just the other day, two bald eagles were in the lake at the same time.

Twice the delight!  Two eagles in the lake at once

It is not uncommon to see bald eagles in Florida. The Sunshine State is home to approximately 1,400 nesting pairs of the majestic birds, third in the United States only to Alaska and Minnesota in eagle populations. When I’m out driving — especially if I’m anywhere near a landfill — I watch for eagles. I look for a large bird with a white head, sitting upright on top of a utility pole, and quite often I spot one.

Eagles can often be spotted sitting atop utility poles in Central Florida

Despite being our country’s national emblem, emblazed upon the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 to symbolize freedom, strength and longevity, not everyone thinks the bald eagle is the most qualified bird to hold such a position of honor. 

Benjamin Franklin would have preferred the turkey to represent the United States instead of the bald eagle

“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in a legendary letter to his daughter penned a year-and-a-half after the Great Seal was adopted. “He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk, and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him.”

On several occasions, I’ve seen eagles do precisely that — let an osprey do the hard work of catching a fish, only to suddenly swoop in and steal the food away in a fierce aerial flight.

In the same letter, Franklin also accuses the eagle of being a “rank coward” because small birds defending their nests often chase it away. Although I’ve seen that happen too, I’m not sure I would characterize the eagle’s behavior the same way Franklin did.

A couple months ago, I watched several crows dive-bomb an eagle perched in a pine tree. The eagle tolerated the crows’ assaults even after they escalated and became more menacing. Finally, the eagle had enough and flew away.

Eagle being attacked by a crow

Letting the crows know he doesn't like being harassed

Tired of being subjected to continual assaults, the eagle decides to fly away

Instead of acting cowardly, it seemed as though the eagle’s retreat demonstrated avoidance rather than a lack of courage. It reminded me of how I feel when I’m sitting quietly in the woods watching wildlife until mosquitoes find me. I tolerate the bugs for a while, but eventually they become too annoying. I pick up my gear and move to a different spot.

Below is a video of the eagle under attack by the crows

The day when two eagles visited, smaller birds weren’t harassing them, and they weren’t attempting to steal prey away from another predator. Instead, I think they might have been involved in pursuits of a more amorous nature.

In the south, bald eagle mating season takes place from September through November, and part of the courtship rituals involves the pair perching, bill stroking and overall body stroking with the bill.

When I happened upon the two eagles, they were facing each other in shallow water. I don’t know what they had been doing before I saw them, but my observations included some intense bald eagle eye contact, face-to-face activity followed by pair perching in the pine tree.

Love in the lake?  Perhaps...
One tree, two eagles

I’d love to think that seeing two eagles — possible mates — by our lake foretells more frequent eagle sightings in the future. However, I’m realistic enough to know that’s probably not how it will be. 

Happenstance led me to each eagle encounter in the past, and that’s most likely how I’ll experience them in the future. Whether it’s about specific wildlife or life in general, so many wonderful moments result from being in the right place at the right time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A gentle reminder...

“Breathe in…Breathe out…Move on.”

Printed in black letters on white poster board, the small handmade sign sits on the dashboard of my car. It faces the steering wheel, so whenever I’m in the car, those six words are always within view.

A gentle reminder...

I had the idea to make a sign with the phrase after listening to a song by the same name on Jimmy Buffett’s 2006 CD, Take theWeather with You. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a Parrothead — a diehard Jimmy Buffett fan — many of Buffett’s songs have made their way onto my personal playlist of all-time favorite tunes.

Buffett's album cover

Buffett co-wrote “Breathe in, Breathe out, Move on” with Coral Reefer Band member Matt Betton as a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans nine years and one month ago today. In a promotional interview for the release, Buffett referred to the song as “a quiet gesture” that says “We’ve gotta deal with it and move on — no matter how bad it is.”

Although I’ve never had to deal with devastating hurricane damage, like everyone else, I’ve had my share of difficulties. If given half a chance, I know how easy it is for daily woes to escalate into depression and stress. Even with a reminder posted on my car’s dashboard — and another on the window sill by the kitchen table — I sometimes find myself regressing into a tangled web of what-ifs and if-onlys.

Fortunately, to free myself I need only look up. It may take more than one glance but eventually, the simple message works its magic. I refocus my attention and allow my wandering mind to snap back in place. “Breathe in,” I tell myself. “Breathe out. Fretting won’t solve the problem. Let it go. Move on.”

Over the past couple years, Buffett’s words have become something of a mantra to me but it’s hardly the first time I’ve depended on visual reminders to reorient my mindset. During my early 30s, I made a batch of small calligraphy signs stating, “Accept Pleasure” and posted them around the house. At the time, I was deeply enmeshed in raising three young children and far more occupied with giving time to others than in finding time for myself. My two-word message was a reminder that to be a good giver you must also learn how to receive.

During my late 40s and 50s, the phrase, “The best is yet to come,” was my beacon, shining a light on a future bright with possibilities. I didn’t need any signage for that middle age mantra. I simply repeated the phrase often and each mention filled me with hope.

These days, as I’m about to celebrate the third year of my sixth decade, I’m more in need of peace than encouragement or support. I’m tired of being upset, of worry and woe. If a songwriter’s simple phrase can offer me solace, I’m going to embrace it as best I can.

Toward the end of Buffett and Betton’s song, the lyrics sum up my current philosophy:

According to my watch, the time is now
The past is dead and gone
Don't try to shake it, just nod your head
Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

Below is a letter I received in response to this column:

Dear Sherry,  Loved the column today not that I don't feel the same about all of your columns.  However, today touched a soft spot that had nothing to do with hurricanes but with just living life the best you can no matter the circumstance.  I'm in the middle of my 7th decade and can see, quite well, the possible end of things a whole lot better than when I was in my 50's.  So, the breathe in, breathe out, move on sentiment and the final stanza of the Buffett/Betton song made me make my own sign as you can see from enclosed photo.  It has a place on my kitchen counter and I'll probably make one for my own car. Thanks, thanks, thanks,  Nan Rigotti

Monday, October 6, 2014

Some birthday gifts grow on trees

Although birthday gifts come in all shapes and sizes, they don’t usually grow on trees — but sometimes they do.

My daughter Amber’s birthday presents were literally handpicked at an orchard in rural Hernando County where we recently went to get tree-ripened persimmons and chestnuts.

Picking persimmons

Amber’s birthday is in the first week of October, a fruitful period that coincides in Central Florida with harvest time for papayas, avocados, starfruit, bananas and chestnuts as well both hard and soft varieties of persimmons.

Although persimmons are unfamiliar to most Americans, our family has enjoyed the taste of these Asian delicacies for years. We discovered them shortly after we moved to Florida in 1987 and every year since then, we usually include a persimmon-picking expedition as part of Amber’s birthday celebration.

Last year, we went on a birthday persimmon picking excursion with Amber in Gainesville

“They’re like Florida’s version of northern apples,” the birthday girl said after biting into a fuyu persimmon she’d just plucked from the tree. “I really like them when they’re crisp and crunchy.”

Sampling the goods during persimmon picking in Brooksville 

Persimmons come in two basic varieties, astringent and non-astringent fruit. Fuyu, the kind my daughter likes best, are in the non-astringent “crunchy” category, edible when their flesh is either hard or soft. Fuyu persimmons are in direct contrast to hachiya and other astringent varieties, which are edible only when their flesh is soft and squishy.

Astringent persimmons are the ones that give the fruit a bad reputation. One bite of an unripe fruit, and the mouth goes suddenly dry and feels like it is full of fluff. It’s an extremely unpleasant sensation and enough to make many people avoid persimmons from then on. That’s too bad because if they’d only waited until it was completely ripe before tasting, they would have had a completely different experience. When ripe, an astringent persimmon is extremely sweet with none of the negative characteristics of an unripe specimen.

Although both astringent and non-astringent persimmons turn orange when ripe, their different shapes make it easy to tell the two types apart. Non-astringent persimmons look like tomatoes. They are round with flat bottoms while astringent ones have an acorn shape with a broader top and pointed bottom.

The grove we visited on the outskirts of Brooksville had several species of both types of persimmon trees as well as numerous chestnut trees. After picking as many persimmons as we wanted, we turned our attention to the chestnut trees. While our family is well acquainted with persimmons and enjoys eating chestnuts, we had never harvested chestnuts before.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to harvest them this time either. The farm’s owners, Fred and Dorothy Galbraith, had already picked the chestnuts and extracted the nuts from their extremely prickly burs.

Persimmon and chestnut farmers, Dorothy and Fred Galbraith

“Better not touch them unless you have leather gloves on,” said Fred Galbraith when he saw me reach out toward the spiny bur. Heeding his words, I pulled my hand back but not before it brushed against the pointy spines. Goodness, how sharp!

“How do you pick them without hurting yourself?” I asked Fred as I inspected my hand. 

His wife said, “You shake the tree and the ripe chestnuts fall to the ground. Fred wears thick leather gloves to pick them up and to open them to get the nuts.”

Before you can roast a chestnut, it must be extracted from a very prickly covering

 We left the farm with a little over five pounds of chestnuts, many more pounds of persimmons and a quart jar of raw clover honey. Although we shared part of the bounty with our other children, Amber took home the most. Birthday gifts may not usually grow on trees but when they do, they can be especially tasty presents.

Want to pick your own?
Fred and Dorothy's u-pick farm is located on Hickory Hill Road in Brooksville.  To see if any chestnuts or persimmons are still available call 352-799-4068.