Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Isle of Caprice

2-24-700x460This morning, I ran across an interesting article about the Isle of Caprice, which included this postcard and 5 historic pictures from the island, which was cut in half by a hurricane and eventually washed away entirely. I was glad to hear confirmation of the story I first heard from Christopher Mauer, when he came to The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium to talk about Walter Inglis Anderson. That story led to the poem, “Isle of Caprice,” which started my on my journey into the life and art of Walter Anderson. Though I knew of Anderson’s art when I heard the story, the image of the artist drinking fresh water from a pipe rising out of the waves of the gulf inspired me to explore his artistic vision further and led to my book, Barrier Island Suite.

Here are a couple of interesting facts, I learned from the article today:

The original name of the island was Dog Keys. Walter Anderson speaks of Dog Keys Pass in his logs (I titled another poem after it), and I’d never been able to identify which island or keys it referred to. Now I know that he was referring to the place where Isle of Caprice was located.

The article also confirms that name of the island during its heyday as a resort as Isle of Caprice — some have questioned whether it was Isle of Capris or some other spelling. I’m glad to know that detail is historically accurate!

The article also confirms what I’d always suspected, that the island was just outside of federal jurisdiction, so it was legal during prohibition to sell alcohol there. Unfortunately, the resort only existed for about 3 years before the Great Depression hit and tourism was dramatically reduced.

For more details and especially to see photographs of the island that once thrived off the coast of Mississippi, go to Only In Your State

Surprise Lilies

Surprise LiliesWe’ve been doing yard work this week, and one thing that has made it more bearable has been the appearance of surprise lilies, or as Felder Rushing called them this week on The Gestalt Gardener, Naked Ladies. I’ve also seen that they can be called Resurrection Lilies, which may be my favorite name for them. They pop up in our yard every year in late July or early August, and we see a few around our neighborhood. If we can remember where to dig, we may move a few bulbs this fall and separate them. Over the years, they’ve multiplied quite a bit, and since ours are all in the back yard, it would be nice to move a few to the front. It’s always nice to see these rise from the ground in the hottest months of the year. (By the way, the green around this clump is monkey grass. The lilies themselves have no foliage this time of year, though they do have fairly big leaves in wintertime, after the flowers are gone. The time to move them is when there is no flower and no foliage, which is why you either have to mark where they are now or have a good memory. Maybe this picture will help me in the fall!

Western Vacation

Driving WestIn July, Kim, Aidan, and I packed up the car and headed West. Well, actually, we drove North to my mother’s in Osage, Iowa, first, and spent a traditional 4th of July week there with fireworks, the parade, barbecue, ice cream, and lots of local flavor. Then we turned the nose of our Mazda west for an old-fashioned car-camping vacation. It was the kind of trip my family used to take nearly every summer. Long hours on the road with plenty of stops at national parks and other scenic places. So sitting behind the wheel and going back through this country was like a trip back in time, even though our pop-up tent was a lot easier to manage than my family’s Camp-O-Tel.

Back in the day, this was a tent that you put on top of your car. When you got to your campsite, you could unfold it and sleep up there. My parents slept in the car on a mattress, and us kids were in the car topper. There was a stove we could get down for cooking, and a ladder we could climb up when it was time for bed. It was the precursor to the ubiquitous pop-up trailer, which soon eclipsed the Camp-O-Tel. Even when we were using it, we rarely saw another one.

This summer, we had a little 5-person tent (those would be very skinny folks — the three of us had little room to spare, and we’re not big!) We had our sleeping bags, an air mattress (some of us are not as young as we used to be), a camp stove, cookware, food, and three suitcases, plus hiking boots, sunscreen, jackets, camp towels, flashlights, lanterns, and assorted other equipment all piled in the back of the Mazda. It was organized chaos, especially after a few days camping, but we managed 10 nights without much problem and only one night in a hotel when it rained all night. Fortunately, this was a break we had planned, and we guessed right about the weather. The next couple of nights we also had thunderstorms, but they didn’t last too long and the rain wasn’t so bad, so the only real issue was lightning.

We went first to the Badlands (where we had our only bad experience with an RV that ran its generator all night, grrr), then on to Rushmore and Custer State Park. From the Black Hills, we headed on to Yellowstone, stopping first just outside the park at Buffalo Bill State Park — a nice park but for the mosquito swarms that hit for about an hour at dusk and for the irrigation sprinklers that went off in the night (not at our camp spot, fortunately).  We stayed in Yellowstone 4 night, which was a huge relief after setting up camp and packing it all up the next day for several days running. That also allowed us to be in the park and get to the sites we wanted to see each day much more quickly. Because it is bear country, we had to pack all of our food in our car when we weren’t actually cooking. We took advantage of this fact to have dinner out a couple of times, extending the amount of time we had in the park. We saw most of the main geysers and hot springs, saw lots of wildlife including so many bison we were nearly tired of them by the time we left, and hiked several trails. We didn’t do much back country hiking, though we went far enough from the boardwalks that we did carry bear spray to be on the safe side. Four nights were enough that we felt we really saw the park, but we also realized we could spend a week there (or much more) and still just touch the surface, especially if you got off the beaten track more. Some of our highlights besides the main attractions were Lamar Valley at sunset (in a thunderstorm part of the time, but it was still beautiful), swimming in Burning River, and hiking to the suspension bridge across Hellroaring Creek.

From Yellowstone, we headed south to Grand Teton National Park. This was the first park where we didn’t (couldn’t) make a reservation for the campground, and we were glad when we got there. Road construction meant a 30-minute delay, so we stopped at Colter Bay campgrounds and explored that area first. Here we were able to rent a canoe and spend a couple of hours on Lake Jackson. Aidan and I even swam in the lake. We also took a hike and saw some trumpeter swans nesting on one of the nearby ponds. The next morning, our plan was to get up early and beat the construction crew — didn’t quite make it even though we left the campground before 7:00, but the wait at the one-lane road wasn’t bad, and we still made it to a picnic area in time to cook a dozen eggs for breakfast. Usually we wouldn’t eat this much, but after over a week of camping, we were starting to feel the effect of camp rations and lots of hiking — a couple of us glad for the reduced padding, but ready for a more filling meal. We explored the south end of Tetons, vowing to go back and spend some more time, then headed on to Salt Lake City. We didn’t stop there, but did get our only hotel in the camping part of our trip in Provo. This was where the thunderstorms were the worst, so we were glad we hadn’t found a good park (though there is a state park we could have tried if the weather had cooperated).

Next stop was Arches and Canyonlands for a very impressive, but very different kind of landscape. We went from 40 degrees at night in Yellowstone to dry and hot in Utah, but fortunately we hit it right and the highs were only in the 90’s. We took the parks’ advice and drank plenty of water. Hiked to Delicate Arch and several other short hikes around other arches. In the night we had storms and a mule deer who didn’t like us for camping under his or her mulberry trees. The next day we toured Canyonlands and headed to Mesa Verde, where we camped, hiked, and took a tour of one of the cliff dwellings in the morning. We would have loved to stay longer, but needed to hit the road for the drive through New Mexico to Albuquerque to see Rudy and the rest of the Lucero clan for a brief visit. It was great to eat Michael’s New Mexican cooking — he’s becoming quite the chef — and visit with Liz, Kyle, and Andy. Wish we could have stayed longer there, too, but home was calling.

Family marked the bookends of our trip. We just had a two-day trek back to Mississippi, and for that we hooked up with friends Andy, Elizabeth, and Ely, swapping passengers and riding across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas together, catching up along the way. It just so happened that both families were returning from our Western vacations on the same days, and our paths crossed in Albuquerque. We spent the night in a hotel in Oklahoma city (they weren’t camping, and hoteling it allowed us to get a little further each day) and separated in Memphis at the visitor’s center rest area.

After two weeks on the road, we returned refreshed, though ready to be out of the car. We had seen a ton of scenery along the way and had some great experiences. We’ll definitely be planning another old-fashioned road trip, including camping, another time soon!

Brussels’ Hidden Gems 2

After food, beer, and chocolate (see Hidden Gems 1), what  more do you need? Well, Brussels has a lot more to offer, and a lot more than I can summarize here. These are just a few of the delightful spots in the city you might miss, if you just rush through the typical tourist spots.

Museums

Brussels is filled with all kinds of museums. Of course, we went to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts to see the Flemish Masters, though unfortunately, this year my favorite part, the Museum of Modern Art was closed for renovations, so only a limited collection was on view. We also visited the Antoine Wiertz and Constantin Meunier museums, and the newest of the Royal Museums dedicated to René Magritte. Also in Elsene (Ixelles), where we were staying, is the Victor Horta Museum dedicated to one of the founders of Art Nouveau. But of all the museums we went to, one of the biggest surprises was the Military History Museum in the Park du Cinquantenaire. Much of it held the old moldy uniforms and sabers one might imagine, but the medieval armor exhibit was quite extensive and informative. And for fans of aviation, there is a whole wing with airplanes from the First and Second World Wars on display. Well worth the price of admission (which is free), and a good place to go on a rainy day.

While you’re in the neighborhood, you might stop over at the auto museum or at the Royal Museum of Art and History. Though not as extensive as the Louvre, the collections here are quite impressive and well laid out. Don’t go looking for fine art (at least not from Belgium), but you will find everything from ancient Babylonian artifacts (some are castings of 19th Century finds that are housed elsewhere, but were made at the time for Belgian scholars to study and translate; others are original artifacts), Greek and Roman statues, pottery, etc. (including an impressive audio/visual model of the Roman forum area), Egyptian tombs, statues, and complete mummies, Native American and Pacific Island artifacts, archeological finds from prehistoric Belgium, 19th Century astrological instruments, and the list goes on and on. We spent all morning in the museum and could barely tear ourselves away for lunch at 2:00 p.m. There was still much more to be seen.

Another surprise was the Brussels Tram Museum, that Kim and Aidan went to see. We love riding trams in the city (and metro and busses), so we knew Aidan would love this museum, but the extent and pristine condition of the collection was amazing. And Kim and Aidan were able to take a ride on a historic tram through the beautiful park Woluwé. Aidan even got to steer (on a tram that wasn’t moving, of course). With one of the oldest tram systems in the world, Brussels is a fitting place to see some of the history of this delightful mode of transportation. Tourists can even take guided tram tours of the city, and trams can be rented for parties and special events. Needless to say, we didn’t have that experience, but it sounds unique.

Parks

Brussels is one of the greenest of capital cities with thousands of acres of parks. You don’t have to go too far to find a city square with trees, grass, flowers (the roses were gorgeous in June while we were there), and a few benches. We loved the Petite Sablon, Park Leopold, Cinquantenaire Park, among many others, but our favorite spot in all of Brussels may well have been the Forest of Soignies. It was a good hike or an easy tram ride from Place Flagey near our apartments, and it is a vast forest surrounded by the city. I only got to go there once, but Kim and Aidan went to several different parts of the forest, where there are walking paths, semi-wild animals (not at all afraid of humans), ponds, birds, trees (obviously), and best of all quiet. At least in the area near the old hippodrome, we were able to get far enough away from the streets and highways that you could completely forget you were in a city. Even if you can’t make it down to the forest, there are often little walled-in parks and gardens like the Jardin Jean-Félix Hap that we discovered not far from Place Jourdan. Consult your map for a patch of green or keep your eyes open for a gate in a wall that might just lead to a quiet public space.

Street Art

As I mentioned above, we visited the Victor Horta Museum and learned more about the Art Nouveau architects of Brussels. One of the joys of living in the city was walking around and discovering beautiful buildings. Near the museum is a walking tour that can get you started. Keep your eyes open for the gorgeous ironwork and fascinating painted or mosaic façades, and you will find more examples of this style as you walk around the city, especially in the European District and other neighborhoods a little beyond the city center.

While you’re walking, you’ll also notice some of the many comic book murals that are scattered throughout the city. A trip to the Belgian Comic Strip Center might be worth your while. To be honest, we didn’t make it this trip. Instead, we took a short train ride down to Louvain-la-Neuve to visit the Hergé Museum and learn more about the creator of Tintin.

And if you wander down the right street, you just might encounter this competitor to the Manneke Pis, the Zinneke statue. The mongrel dogs that roamed by the Senne river that once flowed through the center of Brussels (until it was covered over, though it still flows beneath the city) were given this name, and the dog has become a mascot for Brussels multiculturalism. Every other year (on even numbered years) there is a Zinneke Parade, celebrating Brussels’ multi-lingual and multicultural communities. If you happen to be in Brussels in mid-May, you might even run into it. If not, see if you can find this slightly disrespectful dog making his mark on the city.

Merry Christmas

As a Christmas present to the blogosphere, I’m posting a poem from my second book, Time Capsules. It was originally composed on a bitter cold Christmas Eve in 1996, when I was visiting my parents. Lilith, the black lab/border collie mix, who is mentioned in the poem, died several years ago. She was a constant companion for over 14 years on late night or early morning walks.

This year, Iowa has relatively warm weather and our chances of snow are slim. I’m here with my family and our new dog, Zinneke. Though much has changed in the last 15 years, the dark nights of deep winter and the clear air or Northern Iowa, especially walking out into the countryside late at night, still brings a special kind of clarity.

Christmas: Osage Iowa, 10:00 p.m.

I take 10th Street out of town. The only life
on the road is a snowmobile, a couple of cars,
my dog Lilith, and me. It’s ten below
with a light snow. The wind is still tonight,
making the cold bearable. Snow underfoot
and the slightest breeze in the pines create
the only sounds. Then just beyond
the city limits all stops. Around me, empty
white fields and tiny flakes descending
gather up a little stray light to illuminate
the dim landscape. There, half a mile off
the lighted trees at a farmhouse add color
to the stark white of yard lights, muted
now by snow. A car’s red tail lights
glide along the highway headed north.

This stillness is what I’ve traveled two
thousand miles for: the clean, crisp
subzero air, the light invading the dark
to clear my soul. It only lasts a moment,
then the wind picks up and Lilith wants
to play, dashes at me, herds me back
toward home. We run back and forth along
10th Street, stop to savor the cold night,
check the scent of pheasant in the windbreak,
search for a trace of the near-full moon
through thin clouds. The snow obscures
everything even as it makes everything
brighten. The turning point of the seasons
remains elusive, and yet this moment is
enough to take me through another year.

Spider Lilies

I’ve always loved the fall, maybe because my birthday is in September. But in Mississippi, it’s hard not to love a season that finally means an end to weather in the 90’s and high humidity. Usually around mid-September we start to get cold fronts coming through, and the temps don’t rise quite as high after they’re gone. You can’t really say there’s a chill in the air (as I remember from growing up in Iowa, looking forward to the first frost).

Here, one sign that fall has really come is the return of the Spider Lilies. They pop up, usually right around my birthday, though this year they seem to be a little later than usual, probably be cause it’s been so dry. I always try to notice when they appear–even before they bloom, you can see a slender stalk growing from the grass (or wherever they appear).

The general term for this type of lily that comes up in late summer is the Surprise Lily, which is the title I gave a poem in my last book, Time Capsules. I was really thinking of the Spider Lily, but some people call them by the general term and others call them Hurricane Lilies because they come up in hurricane season, usually after a heavy rain. I’d like to think they’re wildflowers, but in reality, they are a non-native species that have escaped cultivation. Despite the fact that they’re really from Asia, not America, they have become part of the landscape here in Mississippi. Maybe their alienness is part of their charm. Fortunately, unlike some invasive species, they don’t appear to have a detrimental effect on the native environment. They don’t spread too much, and they don’t crowd out other species, but they do provide a little color this time of year.

Passion Flower

The other day, as I was walking the dog down to the river after a torrential morning thunderstorm, I happened to take a look in the kudzu that covers the hill on College St. behind the big white house that used to be Riverhill Antiques, and I saw several bedraggled passion flower blossoms.

I was glad to see them, though they had little of the almost alien beauty the flower usually holds; they were still recognizable from the violet fronds and the yellow stamens. They had stood up to the pounding rain, but even more than that, they had survived human attempts to wipe them out (doubtlessly unintentional.

Several years ago, I had identified the flowers a little further down the block, where now there is a well manicured parking lot. Then, the lot had a small creek (now subterranean) bushes, brambles, kudzu, spider wort, and passion flower. I had seen badgers down in the creek on a few occasions. It was a small patch of wild within the city, so I was saddened when bulldozers began leveling the lot and rooting up small trees and bushes. The culverts that channeled the creek underground, seemed a travesty. Now the lot is asphalt and grass that is watered by automatic sprinklers and undoubtedly fertilized and sprayed with herbicides. No dandelions, no spider wort, no passion flowers.

Looking for an image to put with this post, I learned that Passion Flower can be used to treat anxiety and insomnia. It has been thought to have a calming influence. I can’t speak as an herbalist, but just seeing these flowers had that influence on me. As we head into a new semester (today was our first day of meetings), I may need a good dose now and then, so I’m glad to know where to find them. I don’t plan on picking them or making tea or a potion from them — I would need to learn a lot more about it before I did — but as long as they are in bloom, I may seek them out whenever I need a little lift.