I spent my Mothers’ Day morning dragging brush to our burn pile. My neighbors, part-time islanders up for the weekend, waved to me from inside their cabin where they appeared to be having brunch. I imagined them shaking their heads over me: “Poor thing, no breakfast in bed for her, no restaurant? Out there working at nine in the morning…hope she got flowers at least.”

Truth is, I was in my element. With out disparate schedules, the Mate and I rarely get to do work projects together any more. On a lovely, sunny day, it feels like a gift. And it’s good marriage glue, besides.

So I was thinking about Mothers’ Day when I got to the burn pile and discovered what The Mate had found a day or two before when the last big pile of brush went up in flames:

Fresh-roasted free-range eggs, anyone?

Our neighbor’s chickens? Not the best parenting decisions.

That reminded me of the swallows we’re usually battling this year, trying to keep them from nesting in our garage–or, more accurately, from pooping all over our garage. The nesting ain’t the problem. But there’s no picture of that, ’cause they haven’t shown up this year. Could it be that we’ve finally terrorized the poor things sufficiently, knocking their nest attempts down with a broom and blocking their entry off with deer netting?

So, the swallows get an A in parenting this year. At least so far.

And then there’s the robin who built this nest on the ladder The Mate attached to the side of our house:

Cozy little fixer-upper, good schools nearby…

As you can see, we allowed this nest to stay. Clearly excellent choices on the part of those bird-parents. Right?

Secret to a great life: choose parents who make good choices.

Of course not. These parental ratings are all artificial constructs I’m applying in accordance with the rules I’m setting: THIS ground is for burning. THIS is for storage. THAT yard…yes, good. Good bird. Good choice.

Suddenly the parallel with people was overwhelming. Parents raising children in “bad neighborhoods”–how much choice do they have? In our society, who are the chickens, the swallows, the robins? Who’s in charge of the burn pile, the garage, the ladder on the side of the house? 

Letting Nature–And My Son–Be My Guide: Off to Costa Rica

Son One has higher internet privacy standards than I do, bless him, so I can’t just re-blog his posts about life as a naturalist in Costa Rica. But in honor of the fact that, by the time you read this, The Mate, Son Two and I will be on our way to visit him (if not already being led through the jungle on a night tour, looking for creepy-crawlies–emphasis on creepy), I thought I’d share a little of his world, in his words and pictures.

Here’s a post from last month:

The thing in the image below is not mold, or shadows, or a water stain.  No, the reason the wall appears to be sprouting a happy trail is because it is covered in a huge mass of Harvestmen.

1spiders

Harvestmen, or Daddy Longlegs, are arachnids, but they are not spiders.  They are in their own Order Opiliones.  They appear to havee only one body segment, no venom, and do not make silk.  They are completely harmless, and generally nocturnal.  During the day, they often congregate in swarms for defense.  When they gather, they usually shiver, or “bob”, and when taken together the swarms look like a single mass or large furry animal, deterring predators.  This behavior also has the benefit of combining their deterrent scents, another defense.  This is effective enough that sometimes other animals use the aggregations as cover from their own predators.

We came across this group while giving a tour of an abandoned house near the edge of our property.  The house has been neglected for years, and is now the home of several colonies of bats.  The bats were the selling point for the tour, but the Opiliones ended up stealing the show.

I have seen aggregations before, but never this big.  It nearly covered the entire wall.  And what the pictures don’t capture is the fact that it was moving.  Vibrating.  Shimmering.  Each Opilione was bobbing, and bobbing into the one next to it, causing the whole mass to writhe and pulse.

Being a nature enthusiast with poor boundaries, I immediately dared a fellow naturalist to touch it.  He, in turn, demanded I do it first.  So I did.

His caption: "Good luck sleeping tonight."

His caption: “Good luck sleeping tonight.”

It was like petting an overly hairy dog.  Or running your fingers through wiry lace.  Lace with legs.  Legs that moved.  As soon as I did so, however, the Harvestmen’s other defense kicked in and they dropped from the wall, en masse, each one landing on another and causing a chain reaction that resulted in a cascade of delicate little spidery bodies, legs flailing, onto the ground and over my boots.  It was beautiful.

Yup–beautiful. That’s Son One. Can you tell why he loves his job? And why we love reading about it? And why we’re so excited to let him guide us around his beloved cloud forest?

He’s also funny. Here’s another recent post:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Armadillo

This is one of those stories with no point, but I still have to tell it while it’s still fresh.

We had a family visit represented by three generations:  a grandmother that only spoke Chinese, her daughter who spoke a little English, and a baby that didn’t speak much of anything.  While the language barrier would have been tricky enough, especially in most cases where conversations had to be translated twice and then back-translated every time a question was asked, things went poorly right from the start when immediately after checking in they returned to reception requesting that they be given a different room because theirs had a caterpillar on the door.

Our receptionist wasn’t sure what to make of this, but issued them a different key anyway.  They returned with that one, too.  The reason?  This room had spiders in it.  This level of guest attention continued for the rest of the day and into the next morning, when they returned from the Cloud Forest audibly complaining that they did not see enough animals.  Clearly, these people thought they were in some kind of zoo.  Or maybe a resort.

So this is what I knew before accompanying them on a guided tour of a local coffee farm.  The grandmother complained non-stop during the walk over to the point where her daughter eventually just stopped translating and joined me in trying to ignore her.  I’m sure if I had paid better attention I might have learned the Chinese words for “too hot”, “too steep”, “what the hell is wrong with these cows?”, and “why won’t these dogs stop barking?”, but my mind was on the tour and respecting our host who was giving us a tour or her home and family farm.  The guests’ minds, however, were not.

Instead of greeting our host, they both walked past her and began taking pictures.  They rapid-fired questions faster than I could juggle them in two languages.  For most of the tour and demonstrations, the grandmother kept talking and playing with the baby, who mostly ran wild and overturned baskets of coffee beans.  Our saintly-patient guide and I shared look after look as we skipped ahead in an abridged version of the tour.

However, at one point the farmer’s dogs started going crazy and barking in the bushes.  Her daughter arrived at a run and asked us if we would like to see an armadillo.  She then led us to the spot where two dogs were trying to find purchase on the back half of an armadillo sticking out of a freshly dug hole and quickly vanishing into the ground.  Their claws and teeth just slid off its shell as the terrified creature burrowed further.

While the little girl and her mother tried to hold the dogs at bay, I tried to explain what was going on.

“Look, it’s trying to escape!”  I, too, tried to pry the creature out of its hole, but armadillos are well designed with no edges to speak of when cornered.  It was like trying to pick up a basketball with one hand from out of a toilet bowl, while the basketball is giving off clearly distressed grunts.

“Is that…a turtle?” I was asked.

“No, it’s an armadillo!”

“Can you spell that?”

“A-R—“ and the armadillo kicked about a pint of dirt into my face and mouth.

While I picked dirt out of my teeth, everyone, from the old lady, our guide, and even the baby, howled with laughter.  The dogs returned to their fruitless assault.  The ice broken, the tour went a lot better after that, and we also saw an agouti, an oropendola, some parrots, and even a weasel that darted across the road.

On the walk back, there was far less complaining.  Tiger Grandmom even smiled at one point, and said something to me that her daughter translated.

“She said we saw more animals here than in Monteverde.”

So, am I hoping for a wall of arachnids? Or an armadillo? Or something as cute as this possum?

awwww...

awwww…

Know what? I’ll take whatever Nature wants to share with me.Won’t even care if it’s excessively venomous. In fact, that would make Son One will be especially happy.

Not going to blog while traveling, so for now…Happy New Year! Be safe, everyone, and see you in 2016!

 

Coolest Freecycle Ever: Community Playgrounds

This isn’t an official travel blog post. For The Mate and me, a jaunt down to the Bay Area for Thanksgiving doesn’t count as a serious, blogworthy Road Trip. But we’re still on the road, and I want to share this cool thing we saw, so maybe it does count after all.

Kids come with a lot of stuff, right? Tricycles and scooters and playhouses and various plastic contraptions with dials and buttons and little squishy horns that (none too soon) lose their squawks. Kids grow. Parents get more stuff, keeping up with the demand. Until finally, the kids are in high school, the garage is full, and the choice arises: endless yard sale, or multiple trips to Goodwill?

But in Oakland, at least, parents have created a third alternative: bring those toys to the nearest playground. And oh, boy–talk about Toddler Heaven!

What to play with first????

What to play with first????

We could have stayed there all day if we’d had enough snacks.

Gentlekids, start your engines!

Gentlekids, start your engines!

After all, we all know that other people’s toys are always the best, right?

Even big kids like Son Two are captivated!

Even big kids like Son Two are captivated!

Yes, of COURSE I know such community playgrounds only work in a climate like California’s. Try this in Washington or Oregon, in the South or Midwest or New England, and…ugh. The mental pictures I get–mold, cracked plastic–not pretty.

But a girl can dream, right? What do you think?

 

 

“Godkid:” Now THERE’S a Word

Meet Allison, a lovely young-thirty-something teacher. This is how my husband and I used to tell people about her:

Us: Our adopted daughter Allison is coming to visit this weekend.

People: Oh, you adopted a girl? That is so wonderful; now you have a daughter along with your two boys. Do they get along well? How long ago did you adopt?

Us: Uh, no…not that kind of adopted. Actually, she kinda adopted us…

People: Oh.

Until recently, that’s the best way I could find to describe my relationship with a woman just barely young enough to be my biological daughter (if I’d started young myself). A woman I love like a daughter/younger sister/niece/friend. She’s also my favorite adventure buddy, ready to pop on her backpack and follow me up steep ridges at very little notice. Had we been given the option at an early enough stage, we surely would have adopted her. But Al came into our lives a bit more gradually than that.

Enchantments 2013 063

When I taught high school, Al showed up in my Sophomore Honors English class. She wasn’t a squeaky wheel; she certainly wasn’t the most talented writer. She was a neat kid whom I liked, but never considered I made much impression on her.

In her junior year, she signed up for a 3-hour pilot program, a block class called International Business and Global Studies. With the independent thinking IBGS promoted, Al hit her stride and became a bit of a star in the class. She also, to my surprise, became a cheerleader–a very serious, hardworking one. But again, I didn’t think we had that strong a connection. Plenty of other students seemed to need me more.

So, a year later, when my husband and young kids and I were enjoying his sabbatical year in southern New Zealand, I was surprised to receive a request from Allison: could she come visit? She’d always wanted to travel, and had managed to convince her mom to give her the trip to NZ as an early graduation present, since she had a built-in place to stay. Here’s the conversation I had with my husband about it:

Me: Yeah, she wants to come stay for, like, 10 days. Might be nice to have someone to help with the boys. She’s very responsible. She’s a straight-A kid, a cheerleader…

Husband: A CHEERLEADER?? Here? For 10 days?

Me: Oh, get over the stereotype, tons of cheerleaders are very smart and serious. Yes.

Long story short: Allison came. Her second-ever plane trip–flying solo to New Zealand! She ended up extending her trip so she stayed three weeks. The boys loved her. My husband was deeply impressed with her. And we all adopted each other.

Next year when she started college and her own family was going through a tough time, she moved in with us for a while.

So…our adopted daughter. Our relationship has only grown deeper as she’s become a teacher too, and a singer & guitar player, and a competitive athlete like I used to be. But still–kinda awkward to keep having to explain it to people.

But a few months ago it finally hit me: she’s my goddaughter! No, her mother and father never initiated that relationship in a ceremony. No, church was never involved. No, we have no official documents. But that phrase seems to capture the nature of our relationship perfectly.

That got me to thinking about the word. Goddaughter. Godson. Godkid.

We all know what it means: an assumption of love and co-responsibility. Parenthood without biology. Parenthood with built-in distance, maybe some legal assumptions, but nothing one would go to court about. Parenthood especially blessed by a higher authority.

But think about it: Godkid. How cool is that word? Doesn’t it conjure up all kinds of images?

So I thought I’d ask my readers: what does “godkid” mean to you? Do you have any, either church-related or secularly? Are you one yourself? Do you like the word? Is there another one that fits better? Let us hear!