My new drum
My new drum

I  don’t know how to drum yet. I can make noise by slapping my hand on it, but the women around me at the retreat were doing fancy rhythms and sounds. My drum and I were just getting  acquainted. My hands were sore the next day, but I learned some new things at a recent three-day retreat, not necessarily about drumming:

1.  You can go a whole weekend without a hairbrush if, and only if, your roommate shares. However, I suspect that you might be able to get along without any hair implement–only a suspicion.

2.  TV is meaningless, and you really don’t miss it. YOU DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

3.  iPhones maybe handy, but they are hard to put down.  I don’t have one, but my iPad is easy to ignore because it doesn’t fit in my pocket. As in–look up something now?–too much trouble. Wait until later and the urge will pass.

4. You can tone all the muscles in your outer body in about ten minutes, but it takes much longer to learn the routine.

Singing bowls
Singing bowls

5.  Crystal singing bowls are totally cool. They sound like liquid joy.

6.  Women I know actually eat biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and the gravy is made with sausage.

7. I usually adhere to rules, even imaginary ones.

Tufted titmouse
Tufted titmouse

8. Tufted titmice make beautiful noises all day long.

9. I have only a vague idea what Stations of the Cross are about, but the trail to them is beautiful. The trail  was part of an Episcopal retreat center in Florida, where I spent the weekend with 40 Unitarian Universalist women. (They rent facilities to all kinds of groups).

Path to Labyrinth
Path to Labyrinth

10.  Labryrinth is hard to spell.  Walking one in silence under five giant oaks laden with Spanish moss behind a white chapel is not particularly calming if you are worried about technology. But it helps.

Stuff I already knew, but it was reaffirmed:

1.  Women are powerful.

2. People want to tell their story, not listen to yours.  Some will listen if you have the mic and don’t ramble on.

3. The plural of ya’ll is ALL ya’ll.

4. My fellow retreaters and I “won the lottery of life,”  says Sheryl WuDuun  in her Half the Sky Ted Talk (the equipment worked.) She is so right.  Read the book she wrote with Nicholas Kristof and watch the documentary.

5. Lottery winners should share.

6. Women should help other women.

7.  It makes a difference .

8. And for the record, human trafficking sucks, big time, and it’s closer to home than you think.  Human trafficking is second only to the illicit drug trade in profitability.

9. Lucia’s letter is powerful when read by someone who lived it. In short, it tells moms not to let their daughters go off with strangers (coyotes) who promise jobs and a better life in the US.

Additional observations:

1.  Four good women can plan a fantastic retreat for women.  And have fun doing it.

2. The  Roll-up poetry game works. ( See below)

3. Breakfast is the best meal.

Spiral dance
Spiral dance

4.  A spiral dance is amazing, but you need a good leader, who tells you not to move until someone tugs your right hand.

5.  My home and bed always feels good when I get back.  I wish all women had that feeling.

Roll-up Poetry

A roll-up poems works in the following way:  Choose a topic. (Most poems are about sex and death.) We choose to write about time. The first person writes the first two lines, and then folds the paper over so the first of the two lines is hidden.  The paper is handed off to the person on their right, who reads the second line and then writes another sentence/line below it. That person folds over the previous person’s line and hands it to the person on their right–again–only their line showing.  The resulting paper will look  like the fans we used to make in elementary school.  The poem ends and the last line is written by  the person who wrote the first two lines.  We had seven women, so there were seven passes.  No peeking back was allowed.

Here’s one of the poems we created:


Time is a winged warrior.
Time flies beside me.
I’d like to slow down the flow of time.
I would hope that unlike the 3-minute egg, the time for me does not run out quickly.
Time does run out eventually–but I am not planning ahead.
It is a challenge to stay in the moment, living fully now.
My mind tricks me, pulling first here, then there, before trapping me to ruminate & fuss, while time chuckles tenderly by.
My mind races, jumps, leaps–calm quiet breath strokes my mind into peace.
Peace is my river of time.



Birding the Everglades: Let It Be

The Smallest Post Office

And now, to my own promised land–The Everglades. It’s 176 miles south of where I live in Ft. Myers.  Actually, it’s south of where everybody lives–the very bottom of the state of Florida.  You get there on a two lane road (the original Tamiami Trail), and we stopped a few places to bird on the way. There’s not much in the way of food or even gas as you travel south.  There’s a tiny post office in Ochopee (Smallest in the USA)  and some Seminole and/or Miccosukee settlements. About half-way down we encountered alligator road kill. One of the birders riding a motorcycle said she smelled it before she saw it.

As far south as you can go
As far south as you can go

The Everglades is amazing.  It’s flat flat flat.  The highest point is 8 feet above sea level. The Sawgrass is about waist high and browny green.   Every now and then, breaking the blue and sawgrass horizon are small groups of trees called hammocks, which are like islands for the plants and animals. (And people who get to walk the boardwalk trails.)

Legend (or not) has it the first white man said, upon viewing The River of Grass, “Let’s fill it in.”  Since then, human kind has done it’s best to wreck the Everglades, which is presently on life support. The water, both fresh and salt is precious. It’s all about the water.

Sawgrass for miles and miles
Sawgrass for miles and miles

The Everglades are not a scenic national park, like Yellowstone. It’s a biologic wonder–the largest  contiguous freshwater marsh in the world. The coastline has more than 10,000 islands. Man has damned, canalled, diked, diverted, polluted, and drunk the water from The Glades for years, to its detriment. Time will tell if the damage done can be undone.

purple ganninule
purple galinulle

The most wonderful birds still make their homes in The Glades.  Purple ones like the galinulle and pink ones like the roseate spoonbill(see slide show below), little tiny warblers and gnatcatchers and American white pelicans with 9 feet wing spans, kites, hawks and vultures that soar and ducks that waddle.  Some birds are elusive, like the mangrove cuckoo, and others appear totally unfazed by humankind, especially on the 1/2 mile loop Anhinga Trail near the Florida City entrance to the park.  Shark Valley, another entrance, features huge gators you almost trip over if you are busy watching birds.

Unconcerned gator

There are also mammals, insects, amphibians and reptiles, vertebrates and invertebrates.

The Everglades are home to some endangered rare things. Nesting wood storks, for example, odd and wonderful manatees, and scarce panthers. Invasive creature–pythons and walking catfish also call it home. The Everglades is water, food and habitat– we need all three to live and so do its creatures.

walking catfish--ugliest fish in the Everglades

You have to SEE The Everglades to believe it.  My husband John is a photographer.  He tagged along on this adventure and captured some of it beautifully:

Let it be.

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A Crow Gets Even

OSPREY with YOUNGI enjoy watching birds.  They are generally beautiful creatures, with habits and feeding methods that amuse me.  The tiny little blue-grey gnatcatcher must have to eat thousands  of gnats to make a meal.  And sometimes herons and egrets and pelicans have a devil of a time getting the fish they catch down the hatch. And osprey–don’t get me started–their nesting and rearing of young is heroic.

Bird songs are beautiful too, but that brings up modern technology.  It is now possible to carry a cell phone with an app that can play and broadcast just about any bird call.  Real birds of that species respond by coming toward the sound.  It’s not a new idea–ducks have been summoned by hunters for years, but in birding today it’s common for anyone to whip out a cell to playback a call.  Neither humans nor birds can tell it’s a recording.  I have mixed feelings about this, and its a hot topic among real birders.

It adds to the joy of birding if you can actually see birds, but honestly, “calling them in” feels like a guilty pleasure. Instead of spending hours waiting around where the bird was last seen, you can use playback and be on your way to the next spot. But it feels wrong. Imagine it was you–you could hear your phone ring somewhere, but had to run around madly trying to find it every time it rang.  You could be eating, bathing or tending a baby, but you HAD to find it.  And when you got there–nothing.  It would be exhausting, and we’re not birds.

And then there’s pishing.  That’s  just making a noise with your own mouth that sounds like “pish pish,”and sometimes birds fly in to investigate.  I swear one spring in Maryland, I had a prothonotary warbler look at me after pishing, as if to say:“Was that you, fool ?” imagesThe best, the very best bird behavior I have heard was in a parking lot at Yellowstone.  A crow, sitting on a lamp post, had learned to imitate the sound of  car unlocking devices. Humans came out of the hotel, headed to their cars, and shook their heads, wondering what was happening when they heard the telltale “clunk clunk” before they even pushed a button.  The crow, high above, was very pleased with himself. Payback is sweet.

Crows on the light post Crows probably don’t make lists, butI know full well the human need to name and list everything. But I resist making a life list of birds I’ve seen.  (guess that makes it official–I am not a real birder.)  I note sightings in my beat-up field guide–what year and where. That is, if I remember to do it, and I’m not distracted by watching birds in my own backyard.

field guide

Preparing to bird the Everglades

Prepaing to bird

I consider myself a birder.  That means I own some binoculars and a spotting scope, which is sort of like a telescope for birders.  It sits on a tripod and you have to lug it around, which, depending on the brand (the most expensive is lightest–see below), is taxing. But the scope helps you with things like the leg color of far-off birds, and other things you want to see. (and sometimes some things you don’t–like naked people on a beach where there are shorebirds).

I do not have Swarovski (“swear off ski ‘) equipment, which, in my mind, marks you as a real (serious) birder. It is the lightest to lug around, however, so I do envy those who are so equipped.

My new birding/travel vest contains many pockets for assorted stuff you might need, such as repellant, field guide (birding lingo for bird book), keys, cell phone, lip balm, sunscreen, small camera, snacks, water, and assorted other paraphernalia you might find in a purse.  Purses must be left behind when you are in the field (outdoors).

I also posses a pair of greenish lightweight zip-off-to-convert-to-shorts pants, which seems to be popular among male and female birders, and a dark-brimmed hat for extra sunny days. I wear tennis shoes and socks (real birders wear hard-soled shoes).  Completing the outfit is what is called a binocular bra, a criss-cross strap/harness arrangement which lessens the load of binos (binoculars) on your neck. I had a little backpack, but it was embarrassing to keep tangling the bino straps and the backpack straps,  I switched to the vest.
All that, and my yellow sun-protecting shirt and I’m set to go. It’s a wonder birds don’t die laughing when approached by groups of humans with similar getups, bent on taking a look at THEM.

Regarding the new vest.  It has at least 16 pockets, zippers and a lot of velcro.  It’s what my mom would call pea green–the color of canned peas, not frozen. I wore it for the first time last weekend on a birding trip to the Everglades.

Before I did a load of wash this morning, I counted all my pockets–and I am not making this up–factoring in the vest and the pants, there are 22.  No wonder I spent most of my time on the trip trying to determine where I had put what.  Need a Tylenol for neck pain, check pocket number 5…on second thought, maybe 7–or was it 9?  Maybe I should just open them all, to check again for the motel room card…rip goes the Velcro. Rip rip rip. Zip goes the zipper, zip zip zip, and so on. AD NAUSEAUM.  I drove myself crazy, and I hadn’t even started birding the Everglades.

Tune in later for the next exciting installment–actual birding in the Everglades.