Article of Faith in a Season of Storm

The last hanging plant I bought was a sensuous, carnelian-colored Bougainvillea. Long tendrils draped and scattered tender petals all summer long. It hung on a wooden contraption lovingly made by my late step-son that, I swear, looked like a huge crucifix built from 4×4 treated wood. Darryl had drilled into the hard wood and installed strong hooks for plants and bird feeders. A tough Christmas cactus hung there, too, along with various bird feeders.

That was 2004, the year Hurricane Ivan made landfall at our near neighbor,  Gulf Shores, Alabama. From our gate, up in the mid-to-north section of Escambia County, it is 43 miles to Gulf Shores. From downtown Pensacola, the distance is only 33 miles; about the same from vulnerable Santa Rosa Island.  That skinny little necklace of land is the gorgeous piece of real estate known as Pensacola Beach.  Any time I drive over the bridge from Gulf Breeze to the beach, a bolus of fear forms in my belly at the sight. That thin barrier island so crowded with high-rise hotels, restaurants, jet-ski rentals, bikini shops, bars, condos, private homes, a school, churches and people everywhere is sandwiched between the placid sound and the unstoppable Gulf of Mexico.

When Ivan hit, Buck and I were in Scotland on the tiny Isle of Arran. My spotty blog archives from September and October of 2004 describe that time. I’ve unearthed an Internet Archive copy of the Pensacola News Journal’s special Hurricane Ivan report here. I never did find the lovely Bougainvillea. The crucifix-looking wood pieces were twisted and partly smashed. Weeks later I found the Christmas cactus container, but no plant. We did find a small, but potentially lethal coral snake in the garage. Lots of things were misplaced, displaced, or replaced.

The middle of hurricane season is upon us. The rest of the country has seen terrible wildfires, floods, and odd land storms that have taken out power for millions of people for days.  So far, our little patch of ground has remained calm. We’re grateful for the almost daily brief thunderstorms that bring just the right amount of rain and ease the high summer temperatures.

A few days ago, I bought another hanging plant. Its true name is  Zebrina Tradescantia, but that ubiquitous purple-striped plant that will grow for even the most black of thumb is commonly known as Wandering Jew. I always liked them. I respect their hardiness and inclination to grab hold with a rootling and call a place home.

For a person who has eschewed gardening for the past 9 years,  I went a little crazy at Publix the other day. I came home with an instant herb garden: Italian parsley, thyme, basil, dill and oregano. There is a space under open wood steps that connects the second floor deck to a ground-floor concrete patio. Grass sends runners into the soil there. Weeds flourish, but the lawn mower can’t quite reach in to mow. It is only a small space, maybe two feet by four feet, maybe a little bigger. It wasn’t much of a commitment to stick those little herb plants in there. But they looked optimistic, and inexplicably made me so happy, that I went to Home Depot the next day, and bought two “Sunpatiens” — a sun tolerant variety of New Guinea Impatiens. They are loaded with pretty white blooms. I also bought two tiny pots of Asian Jasmine, and a great big hanging Wandering Jew.

Yesterday, I went outside in the hottest part of the afternoon, got out the post hole diggers and made a space to move the black iron bird feeder/plant hanger from its place too far away for me to see well from inside the house to a new home inside the fence close to a back window. The ground was harder than I anticipated. Isn’t that always the way? An hour later, sweat dripping off my nose in a steady stream, my hair a frizzy dark cloud, the feeders were cleaned, filled and moved and the Wandering Jew became a housewarming gift for the birds.

When I eventually staggered back inside and got a look at myself in the foyer mirror, I had to laugh. My mother’s voice was clear as a bell in my head: “Mary Beth, you’re as dirty as a pot!” I dove into the pool, my body temp instantly reverted to its mean. I was cleansed and revivified.

The space under the stairs looks nice now. I went out this morning and said a few words to the herbs and flowers. The five-lined skink Buck recently rescued from the house is living there. He spent so much time evading us indoors, I really think he knows me and my habits better than most people. He knows that I may be half a bubble off, but am not mean or dangerous.

Storms come. One may come this season. It may break my sweet Wandering Jew into a hundred pieces and spread it all around the woods. If it does, I know that one day I will walk and find bits of purple pushing their way up from the forest floor. After Hurricane Ivan hit, and we cried over the loss of more than 300 old Longleaf pine trees here, we planted several thousand container-grown seedlings. They were randomly hand-planted to look natural, not like a commercial plantation. These days, those trees are twice my height; some three times.

That Wandering Jew hanging plant is an article of faith in a season of storm.  Despair can take root, but so can hope; so can resilience.

Returning to Scotland

Goatfell Mountain

There are few enticements that can blast Buck and I out of our Longleaf cocoon, but a return to Scotland’s Isle of Arranis one.

We leave September 13th and return on September 26th. All the arrangements have been made: airline and ferry tickets purchased. Rental car booked. Maggie’s usual suite at the Magic Touch Dog Hotel and Spa reserved. I hate leaving her, but judging from her wagging tail on past trips, I think she looks forward to these infrequent visits with other four-legged critters. She hurt my feelings the last time by trotting off down the hall to her room without even a look back.

We’ll be staying in a self-catering house, so I’ll have an opportunity to cook for ourselves and local friends. I plan to pack along some pecans from Renfroe Pecan here in Pensacola, as well as some dried chiles and stone-ground corn meal. There’s an excellent Co-op grocery store in the main town of Brodick and a good seafood market and restaurant called Creelers. My favorite place for fresh veggies and baked goods such as raisin scones or veggie quiche is Collins Good Food Shop. They are a combination tea shop and market. I can still recall taking refuge there once on a chilly, windy day. I had been out walking and got caught in the rain. At Collins, I found a warm corner, and resuscitated myself with a pot of tea and a cup of curry-orange carrot soup. It was thick, fragrant and came with a fresh whole-meal bun. It was soul food for me on that afternoon. By the time I left, the rain had stopped and I walked into Brodick to pick up some remarkably decadent chocolates in a tiny designer box from James’s Chocolate Shop.

This small island has it all, from rich history, geological significance, standing stones and castles to mountains, a fault line crossing the island’s mid-section and nearby Holy Isle, which I hope to visit on this trip.

The first time I was on Arran, a small gathering of friends sharing a wee dram or two closed out a night of music and laughter with a song that brought us all to clasped hands and tears. It’s called Flower of Scotland, and was sung a capella that evening by our friend, Farquhar Ross, in her sibilant, passionate voice. Click here to link to Cantaria, a superb non-profit educational resource for aspiring bards and minstrels, where you can read about the history of Flower of Scotland, lyrics written by Roy Williamson, late of The Corries, and listen to an impressive rendition sung by Wild Mountain Thyme.

A person would have to be bereft of brain, heart and pencil not to be able to write interesting posts in such a setting, don’t you think?

The Auchrannie and Dinner with Friends

Buck and I have turned in early, following a nice soft-scrambled egg, toast, strawberry jam and milk supper preceded by a couple of drinks. Short, and not too heavy on the ethanol.

On Friday we picked up our rental car, a Vauxhall Omega, and drove to the coast at Ardrossan without taking a wrong turn this time. We were just in time to drive aboard the ferry to Brodick. We split a ham, crushed pineapple and cream cheese sandwich on whole meal bread, a Diet Pepsi for Buck and a cup of hot tea for me. I enjoyed seeing the bright-eyed children and the shaggy dogs. The crossing was gently rolling with a thick wet mist surrounding us. It felt very familiar and comfortable.

We checked into Room 18 of the Auchrannie hotel, smallish but quite comfortable. It is in the old portion of the hotel, which was once the home of the last Duchess of Hamilton — Charles Fforde’s Great-Grandmother. One proceeds from the front desk through a sort of rabbit warren of doors, alcoves, cubby holes and a half flight of stairs to get to Room 18. We unpacked a bit, and then I call Lynn and made arrangements for them to join us for dinner at 7:15 for drinks in our room, then dinner in The Garden Restaurant at 7:45. Then we closed the drapes and set a wake-up call for 6 p.m. Lights were out about 3:30. I got up around 5:15 and took a leisurely hot bath. It was wonderful and sufficiently restorative that I was able to be a coherent dinner companion. Buck rose, showered and dressed. I went downstairs to the Brambles Bar and ran into Jason (Sonia’s son), now the manager of the new Spa Hotel’s Cruize Bar, who fixed me up with two additional glasses and a bowl of ice.

It was a pleasure to see Charles and Lynn and dinner was an unexpected  bonus. We sat for half an hour in the parlor by the fire — very cozy. Buck drank a Manhattan, while Lynn, Charles and I had a glass of Vouvray. A small tray of appetizers was brought and our dinner orders taken right there. Lynn and I had a goat cheese, pancetta and salad greens starter, Buck had the salmon and Charles a half partridge! For main courses, Lynn and I had a poached chicken breast stuffed with a langostine “parfait” and a delicious sweet potato mousse. Charles and Buck both ordered a nice halibut dish. It also came with bowls of steamed veggies.

Coffee was served with a saucer of fudge bites and homemade sugar cookies. Delicious. Fattening.

After hugs goodnight, we parted company, agreeing to get together later in the week.

1-Auchrannie entrance

Buck and I slept in, then ordered room service eggs and toast with milk, then hustled to be ready for a Noon check-out. Our lodge was ready by then and we moved over, unpacked, grocery shopped, came back and made love for an hour or more, then enjoyed a couple of Manhattans (Buck) and fine Glenmorangie Scotch (me) while we watched Sky News  and I prepared a supper of fresh salmon, mushrooms, new potatoes, sauteed cherry tomatoes and green beans.