Monday, July 28, 2008

B is for the Birds

of the Galapagos Islands, that is. What did you think I meant? Go to Wednesday ABC (the new site) and Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday (the old site) to see how others have interpreted the letter "B".

In June of 1999 Otto and I went to the Galapagos Islands. I was still using a non-digital camera without even a zoom lens. You would think that I would be ill-equipped to film wildlife. But animals on the Galapagos Islands are different. Through the ages they have seldom if ever encountered human predators. The swallow-tailed gull and her chick in the photo above are perfectly willing to share a log on the beach with a human companion.

In the above photo, a male frigate bird inflates his display pouch while his mate hunkers down on their nest.

He will take his turn at incubating the single egg. Here the pair exchange places.

Frigate birds nest in low brush, but their true domain is the sky where they harass any passing fish-carrying bird in an attempt to steal food when the other bird drops it.

Fish-eating flightless cormorants have forgone usable wings in favor of faster underwater speed. In this rookery of flightless cormorants, the males not only share incubation duties, they bring back baubles to embellish the nest. Note the nest to the far left decorated with a starfish. Shells are favorite decor, as are bottle caps, especially brightly colored ones.

Boobies come in three varieties in the Galapagos. The above is a masked booby. The shadow illustrates just how unafraid he is of humans.

The rookeries of blue-footed boobies cling to cliffs above the sea. I took this photo from a Zodiac landing craft on the water.

Red-footed booby.

It's a magical moment when a flight of blue-footed boobies sails up into the mist.

Friday, July 25, 2008


The Sunday Scribblings prompt is “solace”. This post turned out to be longer than I expected. If you don’t feel like reading to the end but like poetry, there are two poems near the end. They are in italics, making them easy to find if you just scroll down.

The beauty of the earth can be solace.

Where do I seek solace?

My answer to that has to be another question: “Solace from what?” Is it some small matter of neglect or careless words blown out of proportion by my injured feelings? In that case comfort food, even a single piece of chocolate, might be solace enough.

For the great griefs, though, such as the loss of a loved one, I have no single answer.

My mother telephoned one early morning in 1962 and, in a shaking voice, told us that, only a moment before, my father had died suddenly, shockingly, unexpectedly, and that she didn’t know what to do next. Otto and I started immediately to her aid. Otto drove with his left hand and with his other hand he held my hand tightly as the realization swept over me that my beloved father was dead. Otto was, as he always had been and still is, my first source of solace. But then came other sources of comfort: the gathering of shocked and sympathetic friends and family - Mother’s sister Emma, Daddy’s brother Bob, Daddy’s colleagues, Mother’s club friends. Then there was the fragrance of the bouquets that began arriving, the aching beauty of a sunny day in November, the poignant stories shared - even jokes told to leaven the sadness with laughter.

The sharpness of that first grief lessened but did not go away. I moved on to another source of solace: my writing. Sometimes in prose, sometimes in verse, what I write is like a dilution of grief that turns it into a sorrow, a nostalgia, that never disappears but which can dissolve into the music of Mozart or the vastness of the night sky.

I wrote this poem a few years after my father’s death as a part of a long prose memory of him called Sam’s Ranch

The Osage Orange Box
for my father, Allen Sterling, 1892-1962
Osage Orange is a woody elm-like tree
whose broad leaves line a porch-lined summer street
of Lawrence, Kansas, where my father grew.
It’s heart wood, golden when it’s freshly hewn,
reacts to light and turns dark love-green.

The lathe-turned box with neatly fitted top
is almost black with age. I find it where
it lies among my father’s things, relics
of a lifetime lived, already half forgotten
at bottoms of trunks, at backs of drawers and shelves.

On the base “A.S.” is whittled, dark on dark,
initials only legible to fingers
as interruptions in the swirl, the whorl
of blade mark guided by the spinning lathe.
The tightly-fitted top twists grudgingly.

The inner surface of the box itself
is olive green except its very floor
on which a photo image is clearly limned.

Light gold, dark olive, the boy - my father - smiles
with Kodak exactitude, sun-exposed
through snapshot negative to new-cut wood,
teen-aged huntsman holding his new rifle
possessively with studied nonchalance.

With care I press the fitted lid in place.
How photo-sensitive is Osage orange?
How many minutes, hours, days, would fade
my father’s likeness to an even green?
I dare not risk this further loss of him.

Encysted in a tomb of his own making
he stays forever young while darkness lasts.

Another death occurred a year later on November 22, 1963, that of President Kennedy. I felt it as a personal grief, somehow linked to my father’s death, and I wrote a whole flurry of poems as my first line of defense against it, once again turning to my writing as solace. I’ll quote only one of them here

Take this hideous razored grief
so sharp in every part,
its spines all tipped with poison
and pointed at your heart.

Muffle it with music,
rub it down with prayer,
thrust it out and close the door,
pretend it isn’t there.

Watch closely, though, for treachery
when handling it tomorrow;
a grief is very hard to tame
into a decent sorrow.

May your sorrows be few!

Thursday, July 24, 2008


This is a response to Mad Kane’s limerick prompt: vacation.

At first I viewed with elation
This chance for pure relaxation.
Now I find it so slow
That I’m anxious to go
On vacation from my vacation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A is for Apple

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday is starting it's third round with a new name: ABC Wednesday! I will continue to post my entries here, but you should visit the new site to view other entries.

This is a view up through the the branch of the old Apple tree that was already mature and producing luscious juicy fruit when we first acquired our summer home in the autumn of 1959.

And here are apples from that tree. They will soon be filling the kitchen with the cinnamon-laced fragrance of Apple crisp.

I didn't pick these Granny Smiths off of a tree. They came from Safeway. They are my (Granny Smith's) favorite apple for all purposes, although they have a tough skin that I peel off before I use them. Or eat one raw. They have a wonderful tartness that I don't find in other apples.

And finally I feel compelled to post this photo of my father Allen,known to friends and family as "A". He gave this photo to my mother, sometime in the teens of the last century, before they were married.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Daria's family vacation

I couldn't resist posting these photos from Granddaughter Daria's blog. I'm sure you would enjoy seeing more of them at Daria's Day . Daria is a professional photgrapher.

The Bishop family enjoying Quebec.
l to r: Andy with Yeti the poodle, Summer, Daria, Baxter.

Yeti is reluctant to cross the swinging bridge!

Politics, Politics!

My dear blogger friend who leans right
I’m really concerned with your plight
For you've made it plain
That you’ll vote for McCain.
Is your straitjacket fitting too tight?

This is a response to Mad Kane’s prompt for a limerick about blogs or bloggers. I didn't quite get in under the wire for it to be posted on her site, but I thought you might like to see it. Actually, of course, I welcome other political opinions being expressed freely among us bloggers, since it opens up an opportunity for fruitful discourse. That's what democracy is about, isn't it?

This first limerick prompted another one that has nothing to do with blogs, doesn’t have a catchy ending and has an extra last line (or alternate, if you prefer). Sometimes I think it’s time to speak up.

Our choices are really too few
If we’re forced to choose only from two -
McCain or Obama,
no wide panorama.
More parties are long overdue.
I’m frustrated! How about you?

Choose to pronounce Obama and panorama either way, just so they rhyme.
I voted for Kucinich in the primary, but it was a mail ballot mailed in early and by the time the votes were counted he had already dropped out of the race. Sigh!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dear Ghosts

The prompt for Sunday Scribblings is "ghost".

My mother, Pearl Sitzler, just before she became a Sterling.

of those I love,
Why are you all so frail, so fragile
Mama but a brief waft of familiar perfume,
Daddy only a delighted chuckle
heard in the distance?
Allen, beloved brother, you come to me
as a scent of wet lawn
and a cooling drift of sprinkler spray
on a sweltering summer day.
Pooch, could that be you,
that fleeting glimpse of brown
the restless stir in the tall grasses?
Jeannie, I heard your voice at Christmas
soaring above the others
as they sang “Oh, Holy Night”.

I have memories, of course,
books and boxes crammed with snapshots
and old letters.
But memories are not ghosts,
not the sudden sense of presence
however brief.

Dear ghosts, why are you
so frail
so shy
so fragile?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Z is for Zoo

The prompt for Mrs Nesbitts ABC Wednesday photo won't be posted until tomorrow or Wednesday - but it will be "Z". I was frustrated by the problem described below, so looked in my computer archives for a substitute for my original plan.

I took this photo almost six years ago at the Denver zoo. Zoo isn't the Z I intended to use. I had set up a lovely still life of carved African zebras in a zigzag line, intending to call it "Zigzag Zebras from Zimbabwe". But it looks as though the lens of my digital camera has been somehow jiggled out of alignment. Fine thing, when I was counting on it for grandson Cedric's wedding (and gathering of the clans) in three weeks!

If I could take a picture of myself sleeping, I suppose I could label it ZZZ. Shamefully enough, I slept until almost noon today. I've really been getting my Zs.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Anna in New York Times

Please click on this picture to see larger view!

A nice surprise today when a picture of granddaughter Anna appeared in the New York Times above a story about Port Townsend, Washington. She is "busking", i.e. playing for tips, trying to raise more money for her September stint in England, studying acting. I'm pretty sure that we were in Point Townsend the day this photo was taken. At least on a day we were visiting there (to attend her brother Johnny's college graduation) she came home triumphantly with almost two hundred dollars - and a bad sunburn. I have a feeling that Anna will appear again in the New York Times, but in their entertainment section as actor or singer. Probably not as a violinist, although she is extremely good at that.

Johnny, by the way, has arrived in Vietnam and sent a jet-lagged but enthusiastic post on Facebook. He won't start his job until Monday. He posted a number of photos, but I'll include just one of Vietnamese traffic seen from above.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Stan!

Stanford Douglas Smith, born July 10, 1950.

Stan at the University of California Stadium
after hearing President John F. Kennedy speak.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Y is for Yuletide

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday challenge is "Y".

Reflections in the bay window of Otto and Kristin's house in Port Townsend.
I was trying for a Escher-like effect, even seeing through darker parts
to the shrubs outside of the window.

Now, I know it's strange to be writing about Christmas on a sweltering day in July with the temperature in the upper nineties and no air-conditioning. But what better time to try to remember a season when frost nipped the nose, and (believe it or not) mittens and mufflers were welcome? Especially in Ontario, Oregon, where our daughter Candace lives, or in Port Townsend, Washington, where son Otto lives.

And in those colder climes, fires were something to welcome, not to fear. Fires continue to rage in California and two of them threaten our dear redwoods retreat in Mendocino County, one from the east and one from the southwest.

Maybe this will cool me off a bit!

This noble fir graced daughter Candace's living room.

This tree is in the home of the younger Otto Smiths in Port Townsend, Washington.
Otto's wife and my good friend, Kristin, is dressed in her Swedish holiday wear.

Christmas poinsettia in Candy's house.

Monkey Boy enjoys the fire in the home of grandson Joe, his wife April,
great-grandson Ocean
and - of course - Monkey Boy.
They live a few miles out of Port Townsend.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Chance Encounter

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "chance encounter". This is not a new poem. It was absolutely true to the facts when I wrote it. I could also add that, in a chance encounter with "our" peacock, a raccoon almost lost his tail and slunk fearfully out of the back yard. The neighbors objected to the "raucous cries" so, reluctantly, we called the pound. The man from the pound came to our home with a large wire trapping cage which he baited. We were to call him when the trap was sprung.

Instead of being tempted by the allure of carefully chosen peacock goodies, the peacock took up residence on top of the cage. He slept there for the rest of what must have been the mating season, then left as suddenly as he had appeared, leaving only a yard full of tail feathers. We have never seen him again.

Regally he paces into view --
step, then pose, then step --outside our room,
small imperious head with swept-back plume
balanced on its column of shocking blue.

He wears his wedding raiment, trailing train
or iridescent satin, feathered sheen
of circlets -- emerald, sapphire, turquoise green
on shifting bronze and gold. We tap the pane.

His strident outcry penetrates out walls,
pierces our minds, awakens memory
of gothic tales, estates that used to be.
What is it he demands with raucous calls?

His hens? He was alone when he appeared
and claimed our unkempt yard, small urban stage.
Wide lawns of empire lost, another age
when he could strut and preen and never feared

the thorny vines that strip each nether quill?
Shrill, he summons his retinue. Who comes?
We lean past garbage pails and toss him crumbs,
sole loyal subjects who obey him still.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Photo Meme

Nonizamboni at Peacock Blue challenged me to the photo meme shown below. The numbers go from left to right along the lines (i.e. not columns). Make of these what you will! Click on the collage to enlarge.

I have sworn off passing memes to specific bloggers, but if anyone feels like doing this one, the rules are posted on her site at INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Type your answer to each question below, into Flickr Search.
2. Using only the first page of results, pick one image.
3. Copy & paste each of the URLs for the images into Big Huge Lab’s Mosaic Maker to create a mosaic of the picture answers.

1. What is your real Christian/first name?
2. What is your favourite food - right now?
3. What school did you go to?
4. What is your favourite colour?
5. Who is your latest celebrity crush?
6. What is your favourite drink?
7. What is your dream vacation destination?
8. What is your favourite dessert?
9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. What is one word that describes you now?
12. What is your Flickr/Blog name?

Have fun with it if you feel like doing it!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

X is for Xerophyte

Mrs. Nesbitt's ABC Wednesday letter prompt is X.

Looking into the heart of a prickly pear (cactus) blossom

The dictionary defination of xerophyte is A plant that grows in and is adapted to a an environment deficient in moisture. The most common ones are cacti and succulents. The cacti in the photos are the first I have ever seen in bloom. So, naturally, my camera leapt into my hand when I spotted them last month.

The garden in my photos is that of conscientious neighbors who realize that California is thirsty, with resevoirs very low. We are currently under a water conservation alert. I have never seen the neighbors give ANY water to this garden.

Here are other views of the neighbors' garden.

prickly pear blossoms mixed with varieties of ice plant (a succulent).

Some of the little flowers are those that thrive on sand dunes.

I don't water either, but my garden has not been planned with that in mind, with the result that we are losing many of our plants that can't live without summer water. The plus side of that is that those that survive thrive, such as our aggressive pink geraniums that ask only that they occasionally be cut back to a few inches above the ground.

My xerophytic geraniums