Sometimes All You Need is To Be Smacked Upside the Head by a Golden Eagle

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a “mentor” of a little girl. Just after that post, I attended a meeting for mentors, where we were asked to share something we appreciated about our “mentee.” One fellow mentor said he loved that his kid “gets me out of my head.”

Anyone relate to that?

For those of us without small children or even pets around the house, getting out of our heads can become a strangely invisible challenge: we aren’t aware of how badly we needed to do it until something flies by and–aaahh…That’s better. Perspective restored.

Today I was running along my usual gorgeous route, which just happens to pass through the scenery depicted on this blog’s cover photo. No slouch, as scenery goes. But was I digging those craggy rocks, that deep blue ocean? Ha. Not a whit. I was stuck deeply in my own head.

Rehearsal schedule. Grocery planning. When am I going to get my garden going? Three pieces to edit–not including my own. Article to write. Need to catch up on sleep from three 3 a.m. bakery get-ups in a row. Time with Mate–when’s THAT supposed to happen? And am I going to have time to practice my subjunctive before the next Spanish class?

Then a golden eagle flew over my head. Followed by another golden eagle.

Imagine two. (orig. image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll admit–several dozen bald eagles might’ve flown over, unnoticed, as I ran along–and good job, baldies, getting so common after nearly going extinct and all. But goldies? They stopped me in my tracks.

I’m sorry that’s what it took, but it did the job. Aaahh…That’s better. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. Perspective restored.

Care to share a similar getting-out-of-your-head experience? Child, animal, plant–or something not of nature? I would love to hear.

¡Pura Vida! This Mind-Broadening Brought to You By Costa Rica

Here’s what Son One says about Pura Vida, after 9 months in Costa Rica:

Pura vida. Literally: pure life. But don’t bother with a direct translation. In Costa Rica, it’s a greeting, a goodbye, a thank-you, a you’re welcome, a slogan, an exclamation, and an explanation. It’s a proud toast to your country’s victorious soccer team. It’s an energetic call as you land a dorado in the Carribean. It’s a gracious refusal of payment from a local farmer who gives the stranded backpacker a ride to town. And it’s the humble answer to any tourist’s question of “how can it be so pretty here?” “Pura vida.”

Nearly two weeks of livin’ la vida pura has given me plenty to think about. Actually, as you might guess, my experience was mostly visual, so I’ll share more pictures than words this time.

#1. I never really understood the term “biodiversity” until I realized that I almost never saw more than one of the same kind of tree, flower, or fungus in the same spot. Everything’s competing madly with everything else.

"Poor Man's Umbrella."

“Poor Man’s Umbrella.”

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Biodiversity ain't always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Biodiversity ain’t always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Plants upon plants upon plants...See any two alike? Right.

Plants upon plants upon plants…See any two alike? Right.

Who cares what it's called? It's so PRETTY!

Who cares what it’s called? It’s so PRETTY!

#2. Costa Rica ought to be a Mecca for gluten-free folks. Rice and beans are eaten at LITERALLY every meal: gallo pinto for breakfast (rice & black beans stir-fried with onions and red bell peppers), beans or bean soup with rice for lunch, and for dinner–you guessed it. Nary a slice of bread, nor did I see any butter for that matter. As for dessert, who needs it when you have the best fruit on the planet? This might be the healthiest travel-eating I’ve ever done.

Note: I don’t generally take pictures of food. So you’ll just have to imagine.

#3. Sometimes other countries’ wild animals don’t quite match your expectations. We happened on some capuchin monkeys harassing an iguana. “Why are they doing that?” we asked our biologist son. His scientific answer: “Monkeys are little shits.”

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

OK, this olinga's cute. But it's also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

OK, this olinga’s cute. But it’s also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

#4. Idea for next blockbuster horror movie: “Strangler Fig.” Seriously, these things are terrifying! They strangle whole trees from the top down, until…shudder…they BECOME the tree.

Tree, or nightmare?

Tree, or nightmare?

This would be beautiful if it weren't so gruesome.

This would be beautiful if it weren’t so gruesome.

#5. Just because a country is “developed” doesn’t mean it matches up to our wealthy, take-everything-for-granted standards. Example: many places we stayed at could not handle toilet paper in their septic systems. And even when we were zipping along on an American-style freeway, we could see that one little dead-engine incident in the opposite lanes had created a miles-long backup, because there was no shoulder, nor any “Rapid Response” state trooper just minutes from the scene. Reminder: appreciate.

No, I did not take pictures of the plumbing or the highways either.

#6. I am far too poor a photographer to capture the color-diversity of Costa Rican birds. The rarest bird of all, the Resplendent Quetzal, I only got to peek at through a scope: look, it’s a Christmas bird! But here are some of my attempts:

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made 'em out of used tires.

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made ’em out of used tires.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird's called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird’s called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

#7. When you’re with a competent guide, the scary creatures are just as exciting as the pretty ones…maybe more so.

Son One's finger--I'm surprised he didn't try to pat the tarantula.

Son One’s finger–I’m surprised he didn’t try to pat the tarantula.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

Why we didn't swim in the Rio Sierpe.

Why we didn’t swim in the Rio Sierpe.

#8. Beauty is universal. Every Tico we met let us know that yes, they KNEW they were living in Paradise.

Pura Vida...

Pura Vida…

Thanks, Ticos. Thank you for taking so much better care of your incredible land than most countries do. You are providing a very much-needed example. And who needs to flush toilet paper anyway?

...y Pura Vida otra vez...

…y Pura Vida otra vez…

 

Red in Tooth and Claw and Paralysis

Feel the need for an empathy workout? Think of one of the most horrifying creatures you can imagine–GIANT SPIDER!!! Got that? Good. Now try feeling sorry for it.

Having trouble? Don’t worry. My son the naturalist will help you get there. Read on.

Pura Vida Stories

Nature is not a friendly place.  Life is often nasty, brutish, and short, and death is no picnic either.  There are some truly sadistic ways animals have dreamed up to dispatch and consume each other.  Most fish swallow each other whole, leaving the prey to suffocate in a sack of stomach acid.  Spiders immobilize their prey in webs and make them hang there, helpless and dreading, until they decide to liquefy them from the inside.  But even spiders deserve some pity for what can befall them.

Hold on to your stomachs, folks.  This is about to get national geo-graphic.Hold on to your stomachs, folks. This is about to get national geo-graphic.

Pictured above is a tarantula hawk wasp.  The unfortunate critter nearby is a tarantula.  The spider has been stung and paralyzed by the wasp, and can’t move much more than a groggy twitch.  The wasp is currently excavating a burrow in which she will drag the tarantula, safe from the prying…

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Road Trip V, Days 12-14, Cookeville, TN-Asheville, NC: Counting Blessings

I realize that the topic of traffic accidents may be painful to some, so—fair warning. We just walked away from one, and I want to write about it.

For the record, I lost both my uncle and my grandmother in separate auto crashes (the former, before I was born; the latter, when I was fifteen). But I’m willing to bet most families can list one or more members lost that way. There’s a reason so many of us sign off our conversations and emails, “Drive safely!”

The Mate and I were heading east on I-40 in the middle of Tennessee in a blinding rainstorm. We had just stopped for a satisfying bike ride (Mate) and run (me) on a rail-trail along the Cumberland River outside Nashville. (For most folks, Nashville = Grand Ol’ Opry. For the Wings, Nashville–or any other city–= “Where do y’all keep your bike paths?”) We had changed into dry clothes, and were looking forward to an arrival in Knoxville early enough that we might even take in a movie. I was on the iPad, checking dinner options.

Both of us noticed that Red Rover felt a little…squiggly. I tapped on the iPad. The Mate drove.

Suddenly, crossing a bridge over a flooded creek, Red Rover was skidding sideways. Her left rear slammed into the concrete divider, bouncing us back across the freeway with such force that the right-side slam spun us 180 degrees. When the entire slo-mo sequence ended, we sat staring the oncoming traffic in the face from the safety of the shoulder.

Of course it wasn’t safe. I was convinced that the next second would bring another car, or one of those semis, hydroplaning right through our windshield. But Red Rover re-started, and after only a few moments–though it felt endless–the traffic parted enough for The Mate to do a U-turn and rejoin the eastern flow.

~A rest area appeared in the next two miles.
~A nice man inside showed us on a map where we could find a good mechanic in the next town, Cookeville.
~Red Rover showed barely a scratch.
~The Mate and I suffered only shaky knees.
~Cookeville was 20 miles away. We spent that drive marveling at our blessings.

I won’t bore you with the details of what we learned from the mechanic about the probable cause of our skid. Suffice to say we’ll be visiting a Subaru dealer when we get to my hometown, Durham. And our poor ol’ bike rack needs some first aid. But this post is about blessings.

We were able to drive away from an accident that could have killed us in several different ways. We were able to afford new tires, and a night in a motel a little nicer than our usual Super-8 level. (They gave us milk and warm cookies when we checked in.) I posted about our accident on Facebook and received dozens of caring responses. The next day we drove safely out from under Winter Storm Thor and made it to the home of our friends in Asheville, who spoil us rotten.

"Goin' back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul..."

“Goin’ back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul…”

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

At this point, all I can do is borrow from Anne Lamott one of her three favorite prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”*

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(*Lamott’s other two prayers are, “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Oh, wow.” I’ve borrowed those plenty too.)

What else is there to say?

Can’t Teal You How it Grebes Me Not to Duck My Latest Resolution

Don’t get me started on water-bird puns. At first they might be coot, but pretty soon they turn fowl.

Enough!

Let me just admit, then, to being enough of a nerd wannabe that, for a New Year’s resolution (one of ’em), I set the goal of identifying all our local winter waterfowl by the end of February.

Why, you ask? I wish I had an answer.

Um, I like knowing stuff? True, but who doesn’t? You don’t see too many people out for walks with their Mac’s Field Guide, even around here.

Studying the field guide is fun? Also true. (Fun fact: when Son One was, well, one, we used to delight ourselves by asking him to point out the blue jay, the junco, the cardinal, etc, on one of those Mac’s Field Guides. He was great at it, and the fact that his nickname was Mac–icing on the cake.)

I can’t say it’s the thrill of the chase of truth, because I haven’t gone Full Bird Nerd and started toting binoculars around, so 75% of the time I’m just guessing. But I do like thinking that, thanks to Mac (the field guide, not the son), it’s now EDUCATED guessing.

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“Western Grebe? I dunno, is the neck long enough? Maybe a loon, but they’re REALLY big–how far away is that guy?”

“Common Murre or Pigeon Guillamot? Winter plumage, so they look pretty much the same, but…aha…the back of the head is grey, not black–gonna go with Guillamot!”

“Look at those adorable little Buffleheads!” (Gotta love Buffleheads–they don’t look like anything else, and it’s a really fun word to say.)

[A disclaimer: all these babblings are (at least until now) inflicted on no one but myself. I do still have enough perspective to realize that my current mini-obsession is not widely shared.]

Western Grebe (courtesy Wikimedia)

Western Grebe (courtesy Wikimedia)

By my own very low standards, I’ve improved quite a bit in my past week. But a grebe is just as lovely even when I don’t know it’s a grebe. So I still haven’t answered the question: why do some of us like to be able to name things?

Anyone got a theory? Or a good bird-nerd story to share?

Why Yosemite is Your Birthright

Road Trip IV, Days 47-49: Fish Camp, California to Medford, Oregon

Wait, where does Yosemite come into it? Just give me a sec.

First of all, Fish Camp (unfortunately the mental images the name conjures up don’t really fit) is the final outpost of private land approaching Yosemite from the south, and we stayed there for three nights with some friends, spending our days in the park.

Second of all, since Medford, OR is only a (long) day’s drive from home, you’d think I’d be writing about that right now. Home. The place we’ve not seen for 49 days. Not to mention our poor dog…although she probably doesn’t miss us one bit since she’s being spoiled rotten by our wonderful friends on the mainland. She may even be a little bummed to see us.

“Oh, you guys? The ones who make me sleep outside at night? Yeah, hi. Welcome home. When do you hit the road again?”

But that will have to wait for my next post, because I need to write about Yosemite.

 

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Have you been to Yosemite? Wonderful! Then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Have you not been yet? Give yourself this gift, sometime in your life: GO.

I believe there are three locales which every American should visit:
Washington, DC
The Grand Canyon
Yosemite

DC is pretty self-explanatory. It’s our Capitol, it contains the (arguably clogged) arteries of our unique-in-the-world form of government, and hell, we pay for the place, right? Every nook and cranny of DC, from the great and obvious Lincoln Memorial (I DARE you to read the Gettysburg Address out loud in front of that massive, sad figure and not choke up) to the innocent-looking curved facade of the Watergate Hotel, reeks with political history…the story of who we are.

OK, the ol’ history teacher’s getting a little fired up here. Down, girl.

But why do I list the Grand Canyon and Yosemite as American birthrights?

I’d like to say, “Just trust me on this.” But that’s too glib even for me. Both these parks are soul-stirring testaments to the power of geology, or the grace of God, or whichever mixture you prefer. Both stop you in your tracks on first view. Both will make you say, “I’ve seen it on calendars before, but I never thought…” and then either run out of words, or need to swallow to get some moisture back into your hanging-open mouth.

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Neither need be out of reach for any American, either physical or financially. Both can be appreciated, in exactly the way I’ve just described, from a motor vehicle (although of course I would not recommend that if you can manage more). Busses go there. Both are possible as day-trips, though again, if you can find a way to stay…you will want to.

Yes, both are in the West, therefore harder to get to for Easterners. Too bad. Y’all can get to DC more easily than the rest of us.

Crowded? Yes, they are–and will be more so if everyone takes my advice. I don’t care. When you are standing at the base of Yosemite Falls, looking up to where the water begins its barely-conceivable 1,500-foot drop, thinking of the glacier that cleaved and carved and polished that endless granite wall…you are, in that moment, entirely alone.

imageimage

If you can get to the Yosemite back country, or down in the canyon’s depths, on the Colorado River? You’ll never be the same.

But if you can’t–go anyway. If you’re an American, this is YOUR great gift. Give it to yourself. And remember to say thank you, and you’re welcome.

Folks who have been to these places, do you agree, or not? Would you add any other venues to my list of American Birthrights?

Nature Hates You? Seriously, Deer Really DO Hate Me

Who knew there was a whole YouTube subsection about the loathing Mother Nature exhibits towards us, her most rebellious citizens?

Looking for “Nature” videos like the sweet little tree-hugger I am, here’s what I found instead:

At first I was properly horrified. Watching Bambi’s mother die, for entertainment? Who is this humorless monster?

Then I drove to work Saturday morning.

Now, understand, I’m a BAKER. I leave for work at 4:30 am. (That’s in the off-season. Before October, it’s 4–but who’s counting sleep-minutes?) That cinnamon-roll dough ain’t gonna rise itself.

As usual, my headlights picked up the eerie glare of deer-eyes as soon as I pulled out of my rural driveway. As usual, half a mile down the road, a mother and mid-size fawn ambled across the pavement in front of me. Then the doe stopped and stared right through my windshield, and it hit me: that video’s right.

Deer DO hate me. They ARE murderous aliens from outer space. And…they know I know. That orangey stare? That was a warning.

Lucky for me, they just aren’t very competent murderous aliens. My high count for deer, on my 10-mile drive to town, is 25. Number of times I’ve had to stomp on the brakes? Lost count. Number of times I’ve had to manually “stomp” on my bicycle brakes to avoid hitting Bambi’s mom? Also countless. And yet…they haven’t managed to snare me. My front bumper and my nature-girl conscience are still clean. (OK, there was that one raccoon…but that’s a different post.)

Shotgun-hunting season, in our neck of the woods, ended this weekend. Bow hunting’s still allowed. I, Tree-Hugger Nature Girl, say “Go for it.” Let’s thin that herd before it thins us.

Because I know they know I know.

What about you? Any scary run-ins with the antlered demons? Like to hunt? Hate hunting? Find the whole Bambi’s-mother question too traumatic to discuss? Tell me anyway.