Conga Drum, Octopus Hunting and a Walk to the Gate

One dream was of a large oak Brazilian timba conga drum. Two almond-shaped eyes were painted on it. It spoke to me in soulful bass tones. “Por favor traga-me uma xícara de café quente.”  I swear, the beautiful eyes did a slow blink.

In another dream, three pick-up trucks drove very fast into the clearing outside my study window. Rough men in camouflage spilled out, popped the tailgate and tugged on something large, a gray-lavender huge squirmy octopus. It had cartoon-round eyes and went galumphing off into the woods. I was on my feet in a flash, ran out the door. “Hey! What the hell is going on here?”  I got right up in their porcine faces.

They looked at me as though I was the strange duck. “Huntin’ ma’am. Don’t you know it’s octopus season?”

What do you think? Am I drinking too much coffee or not enough? Reading too much? Writing when I should be sleeping and sleeping when I should be talking to the Dragon or packing for Maine? Listening to weird music, like “Big in Japan” by Tom Waits? Turn that one up real loud when you’re into the head of a depressive with an attitude in his manic phase. (Hey, I’m talking about my bad guy character I love to hate, Rory Mathis. He must be a Scorpio.)

But in the midst of it all, there are still the sane-making woods walks. We changed weather channels a few days ago, and went from this:

to cooler, much dryer air and clear skies. Our monsoon season has ended. Three nights ago if we had tried to eat supper outside on the patio, we would have been ingesting disgusting black “love bugs” along with the meal. Tonight? Different story. Luscious cool breeze, slow melt sunset in peach sherbet colors, and love bugs gone, baby gone.

Here, then, a few photos from summer’s end at Longleaf.

Surely these wildflowers, so common in the woods, have a name. The naming of things is important. I’ve searched Walter Kingsley Taylor’s book, Florida Wildflowers, from Pine Flatwoods to Ruderal Sites, and cannot find its name.

The shocking purple American Beautyberry (also known as French Mulberry) is a sure harbinger of Fall. This bush is probably spindly because it’s standing in wet ground near the spring.

With abundant acorns, berries, a natural spring, and few people crashing about, the wildlife population thrives. Thousands of green acorns were blown down by Tropical Storm Isaac’s gusts. They make crackle crunchy sounds underfoot.

We’ve had so much rain this summer, I grew afraid of standing still for fear something would begin growing on me.

Looks like this fellow has his morning’s work all planned out.

Some mushrooms are pretty, in a homely sort of way.

And the underside of some are so strange I begin to hum “Also Sprach Zarathustra” while kneeling on the damp ground to get an up-close look. It looks ancient. Petrified.

Lay me down forever in a bed of ferns, my love.

I just remembered I got married once on a September 10 long ago in a land far, far away to a person like “The Stranger” in that Billy Joel song, who became a person “that I did not recognize.” The year I divorced him,  I sang Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” for months before I finally  filed the motion for dissolution.

Just Life

It’s Thursday night, I think. Buck and I got back home to Pensacola last night. We made our way from Maggie Valley to Asheville and turned west on I-26 toward Columbia, South Carolina, where we picked up I-95 South to Savannah. I’d love to say we lingered in Savannah’s old town over a romantic dinner and walked along the river, but that would be a lie. Instead, we ducked sheets of rain and dodged wind gusts until about 5 o’clock. We found a bed and a delivery veggie pizza in a Hampton Inn at a motel city called Gateway South on the Jacksonville side of Savannah. Buck, dear soul, found a liquor store and bought me a fine bottle of single malt Scotch sippin’ whiskey to celebrate the eve of my 61st birthday. I didn’t hurt it too bad, though, anticipating the next day’s fasting for our annual Mayo Clinic wellness physicals.

We spent the evening talking about the romantic journey of our history together. We talked about our Maggie Valley stay, the visits with friends, the nice people we crossed trail with, how sweet it was to stay at the  “Awesome View” cottage, managed by Carolina Vacations, and how superb it was to live for two weeks in a Smoky Mountains’ rain forest garden.

I came away determined to garden again, despite arthritis that cramps my hands and shoulders, despite hungry deer that eat up all the proceeds.

Images of these perfect blooms will stay with me all through the heat of our Pensacola summer. We’ll be hunkered down here in the air-conditioned destination resort until September, when we’ll head to Bernard, Maine on Bass Harbor, back to the fabulously rustic “Captain’s Quarters” owned by the very dear golf croquet champion Jeanne Fernald. Got a note from Jeanne today, and she tells me there is still vacancy in July and August at Captain’s.  Shoot me a note if you’re interested and I’ll tell you all about it. We have stayed there at least three times in the past. Great place  — has its own lobster dock, and isn’t far from Acadia National Park.

This sweet little flower is on a vine I spotted this morning on an early walk down to our very own Longleaf Preserve gate. Early morning’s are the time to walk, while the air is still fragrant and cool. Our doc at Mayo said we should keep on keepin’ on, that our formula, whatever it is, is working. We’re apparently poster kids for the older set. Heh.

I’ve been talking to and writing back and forth with my brothers and sisters. Sweet wondrous folk, dear to my heart. Hard to think of old age, separation, illness and, you know. You know. The part I don’t want to think about. None of us do.

Our good friend, Betty Hunter, brought us a bottle of Pear Gorgonzola salad dressing when she and Jim came to see us in Maggie. I used some today to dress a salad of butter lettuce, Carolina Gold smoked turkey chunks, walnuts, red onion slivers, walnuts, and dried cranberries. Just about the best stuff I ever put in my mouth. Ooh, it was good.

Ain’t it pretty? Sockeye salmon in a teriyaki sauce with brown rice, baby spinach and wok-grilled red peppers and onions. Who says healthy eating is some kind of sacrificial act?

And doing a lazy backstroke in the cool blue open air pool surrounded by tall Longleaf pines, singing mocking birds,  flights of swallows,  the high drone of a circling helicopter, and the drifting perfume of vining honeysuckle, can you tell me that it really does get any better than this?

Sarracenia Purpurea Up Close and Personal


I guess Buck and I shouldn't have been surprised to see this pitcher plant just at the edge of the path near where old fire lines have been replowed recently, but we were. It is normally a boggy area, but recent drought conditions have made it walkable again. The dark shadows deep within the plant's throat are slowly digesting bugs.


Flaxleaf False Foxglove

Many thanks to Buck and my friend and dentist, Dr. Michael C. Parker (Mickey) for identifying the lovely wildflower in yesterday's post. Mickey says it is flaxleaf false foxglove (agilinis linifolia), and that it is the only perennial foxglove in our area. 

Like Bees to Balm

If the forecasters are right, temperatures in the Pensacola area tonight will slide below 50 degrees.  I walked outside and the patio concrete was dry and cold to my bare feet.  Buck, Maggie and I took a two-hour woods walk that began in late morning and stretched so long we almost missed the afternoon flick we had planned to go see. Who could resist the brilliant sky, the fragrant woods? 

Just when I think I have seen every variation of every wildflower that grows at Longleaf, I get surprised. I think these are some type of balm, in the mint family. And I think the insect that was feeding is some type of bee, but am not sure.

Kathleen? Deb? Mickey? Dave?  Sandy? Any ideas?

Bee in flight
Mint family maybe


Plan B Ain’t Bad

I had planned to drive downtown yesterday to attend my first ever yoga class. The studio is situated in a lovely old house in Pensacola's historical district, fronting on Seville Square with a view of the Bay. It is led by folks with deep experience in the practice and commitment to the community. Sometimes when I decide to move out into a new space, it takes me a little while to actually get there. I'll have an idea, make a plan, and start swimming in the general direction of where I perceive shore to be. Usually I find little islands along the way and stop off for awhile before making it to my original destination!

Yesterday was like that. Some things popped up that needed my attention and presence here rather than downtown, and so I postponed visiting Breathe Yoga, but did go for an early morning walk in our woods. Not exactly a bad second choice.


I left the house a few minutes after 7 — prime time for birds in the woods. I passed by a woodpecker busy on the side of a dead pine, and then startled a covey of quail. For the first 15 minutes, before the sun was fully up, a cool, moisture-laden breeze felt like a spa treatment for the spirit.


There is a boggy area on the path that our friend Harold and Buck refer to as a "weeping hill." It is rarely completely dry. That's where I can find pink sundews at certain times of the year, along with all sorts of bog plants, like this "hat pin".

Berries for birds, deer, turkey, squirrels and other critters have been abundant this year. Usually, in mid-August I would expect to find a few dry, shriveled berries on parched stems, not this late, lush crop.

Engage your imagination here, and maybe you can see what I saw but was not nearly quick enough to take a picture of: a large doe, surprised by this two-legged morning interloper, loped in a graceful s-curve from one side of the tree cover to the other, flying a white tail flag and turning her head back over her shoulders in my direction to take a look at me. She reminded me of a star quarterback running, untouched, through a line, carrying the mail for a touchdown.

When I see a sight like that, the tumblers of my life click back into place and the rest of my day is a pure, sweet gift.

I turned from the deep woods, crossed the front yard and touched down on asphalt to walk to the front gate.

The asphalt only goes a short way, and then turns to friendly gravel for the rest of the shade canopied walk.

Down in the stream bed, I admire lush ferns, dark water and fox grape tendrils and breathe deep the air that smells like a brilliant herbal mix of mint, sage, ginger root, eucalyptus, marjoram and ancient rotted leaf.

The stream bed is a magnet for lovely mystery flowers. I remember this one from last year, but never did find out what it is. The flowers have a waxy look and feel.

The gate. It's a sweet, simple farm gate. No electronics. When we drive in from town and have to open the gate in a rainstorm, the overhanging oak tree is almost as good as a roof.

On the way back to the house from the gate, I notice the American Beautyberry (French Mulberry) plants are beginning to show the color which will become Lady Gaga-esque in September.



Make a Wish

  Dandelion seed pod

The open green field is littered with wish-making whirligigs. I think of the long afternoons of childhood, exploring pasture and bog with my brothers in central Florida. We didn't carry cell phones, then, only eyes, minds and hearts set on a channel to receive.

Steve, our younger brother. went back into the hospital last night: high fever, infection. A rare complication – a fistula – developed early on from the February 23 cystectomy and neobladder construction. The resultant pain, anorexia and dysfunction have blocked his recovery thus far. 

I blow, make a wish, and all the seed pod angels scatter.