Monthly Archives: July 2011

I’ll Take Florida, Critters and All

As published in Florida Wildlife Magazine. Illustration by Mike Wright, freelance artist from Longwood, Florida.

They tell me those gigantic wolf spiders are completely harmless, but I don’t believe it. How can anyone say such a thing when people must be tripping and breaking their necks trying to get away from them?

I’ll never forget my first encounter with one. I had just moved back to Florida from Los Angeles, after losing everything in the Northridge earthquake. As I sat on the floor of my condo, the light from a lone, shadeless lamp at my side, I saw a movement from the corner of my eye. I don’t think mere words can describe the terror I felt when I saw that foot-and-a-half-wide creature creeping along my wall. The fact that it was actually a five-inch spider whose shadow was being projected did little to quell my fear; I had never seen such a sight in my life, outside of a 60’s horror flick, that is.

I don’t like to kill things, so I used a broom to encourage it toward an open door. Unfortunately, a palmetto bug big enough to beat me up flew in while I was trying to get the spider out. During the next few months I found that spiders and palmetto bugs weren’t to be my only uninvited guests, so I had to learn other techniques for removal as well.

My brother-in-law taught me how to catch mice with a broom and a paper sack. He’s pretty good at it; over the past 25 years, he’s caught most of the 30+ snakes in his Merritt Island home that way. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was some kind of nut as they watched me, once or twice a week, run out my front door wearing knee-high suede boots and elbow-length rubber gloves, a brown paper bag clutched warily in my hand. I sealed up all the holes around plumbing and any other possible means of entrance for the rodents, and that seemed to take care of the mice–the little field mice, that is.

If it hadn’t been for my neighbor George, I probably would have moved back to LA, earthquakes and all. He was on hand to chase out the huge black tree rat that ran in through my open back door. Even my 17-pound cat was scared of that critter. Usually quite a rodent-hunter, she took one look, dashed through the front door and hid under the car. George was also there to catch the brown thrasher that flew in and took refuge behind the entertainment center. Brooms aren’t too handy in a case like that. And just try using a broom to help a wild rabbit back out the door. I’m here to tell you that a baby rabbit can jump seven feet in any direction–including straight up, even if you are standing directly over him.

My sister Kim says I must have some special attraction for the wildlife because I’m the only one having these adventures, but that’s not true. What about the baby alligator she found under her car, or the opossum that moved into her garage? Then there was the goose that flew down her chimney and into the family room, bringing a terrible mess with it. And surely she hasn’t forgotten about the hundreds of bats she found cohabiting her very-short-term rental in Rockledge?

But in my case, Kim might be right. Who else comes home to find that a flying squirrel has taken up residence in the stove? Unfortunately, the squirrel decided to stay and nest in my oven batting, popping her head up through the burner hole every now and then to see what was going on. The gas man had to come out at midnight to unhook my stove and move it into the woods, and I’m sure he thought I was a nut, too. He kept looking up into the trees, saying, “I don’t see anything flying….” I’ve often wondered what he thought my real reason was for hauling my stove into the woods at midnight. I took the stove apart and removed the dirty batting. Even so, for the next two years, every time I baked brownies there was the faint smell of urine in the air.

When I recount these tales to my Los Angeles friends, their sympathy is overwhelming; they can’t imagine living in such a “wild” place. But when I think about the strange and sometimes annoying animal encounters I’ve had since my return to Florida, I remember the wildlifeless years I spent in LA, where the smog was so thick that I couldn’t see the sky–let alone the birds, and where I never had the occasion to see the five-foot wing spread on a great horned owl as it took off in flight ten yards from my door, and I realize that these adventures have brought an inner peace to me that I never had in LA. Because for me, true quality of life is all about enjoying nature–both human and animal. So I’ll take Florida any day, critters and all.

Take a look at some of my houseguests:
Squirrels: Southern Flying Squirrel, Eastern Gray Squirrel
Spiders: Brown Widow, Wolf Spider, Jumping Spider
Snakes: Ringneck Snake, Pygmy Rattlesnake
Lizards: Eastern Glass Lizard, Green Anole, Brown Anole, Indo-Pacific, Southeastern Skink
Frogs: Green Tree Frog, Little Grass Frog
Birds: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher
Mice: Florida Mouse, Black Roof / Tree Rat
Eastern Mole
Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
Marsh Rabbit
Opossum

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Looking for Lizard Poop (and Coral Smith’s breasts)

What’s the affirmation for today?

I look for more ways to appreciate.

There’s a lizard in the house. At least I hope it’s a lizard. It could be something worse, like a snake or a frog. But something that shouldn’t be in the house is in the house.

How do I know? Because my cats keep sniffing around … under the dishwasher, under the sofa–all the places where a lizard can hide. And Dylan, my Maine coon, gets so excited when he sniffs around the sofa that I’m definitely suspicious. He jumps up on it, jumps down, rolls around, makes that funny sound that Maine coons make, and jumps back up. Then he takes off after Mini, his favorite wrestling partner when he’s excited. They are chasing each other around the family room as I write. Mini has the advantage. She’s small and can slip behind furniture to areas that Dylan will never see again.

Mini and Dylan when they were a year old

So, I should be looking for lizard poop. Not that finding the poop will necessarily help me find the lizard, but all information helps in the hunt. I like to find critters before my cats do so I can take them back outside.

Interestingly enough, I’m not the only one looking for lizard poop. A lot of the people who end up on my blog are looking for it–after Coral’s Smith’s breasts, that is. (BTW, Coral Smith’s breasts aren’t here, if that’s what you came for. In fact, they don’t seem to be anywhere, except, I assume, on Coral Smith. Yes, I went looking for them too. I can only withstand so much curiosity.)

This is where semantics technology would come in handy. I mentioned coral honeysuckle in one of my blogs, my name is Smith, and I wrote a blog called Naked, Naked, Naked, about my cousin who takes her clothes off in public places. Put those terms together and I guess it equals Coral Smith naked, Coral Smith’s naked breasts, naked Coral Smith, naked breasts on Coral Smith–according to my blog counter anyway, which lists the top 100 search phrases that led people here. The software solutions company I work for is a leader in the field of semantics technology, so I’m thinking about talking to our Chief Scientist about this Coral Smith’s breasts problem resulting from Google’s poor search technology. Or not.

Anyway, zillions of searches for naked breasts I understand. The lizard poop search, however, was a complete surprise. More surprising was the fact that my mother knew what was going on there. I say surprising because my mother doesn’t know what either a blog or a Google search is. But when I jokingly told her that my blog was a big hit and why, she told me that smoking lizard poop gets people high (she heard it on TV) and that it’s becoming a real problem. Mystery solved. (BTW, there are no instructions for finding and smoking lizard poop here, if that’s what you came for.)

Oh, well. I didn’t get up at 4 am to search for lizard poop–or to write in my blog. I got up to plug away at my current work-in-progress or WIP, which is a manuscript, for those of you who don’t write.

And I am appreciating the fact that I’m not one of those people who want to smoke lizard poop.

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Important Women’s Health Issue

Do you have feelings of inadequacy?

Do you suffer from shyness?

Do you wish you were more assertive?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, ask your doctor or pharmacist about Margaritas*.

Margaritas are the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident about yourself and your actions.

Margaritas can help ease you out of your shyness and let you tell the world that you’re ready and willing to do just about anything.

You will notice the benefits of Margaritas almost immediately and with a regimen of regular doses you can overcome any obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want to live.

Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past and you will discover many talents you never knew you had. Stop hiding and start living…with Margaritas.

*Margaritas may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use Margaritas. However, women who wouldn’t mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it. Side effects may include:

Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration

Erotic lustfulness

Loss of motor control

Loss of clothing

Loss of money

Loss of virginity

Table dancing

Headache

Dehydration

Dry mouth

And a desire to sing Karaoke

WARNING:

  • The consumption of Margaritas may cause you to think you are whispering when you aren’t.
  • The consumption of Margaritas may cause you to think you can sing when you can’t.
  • The consumption of Margaritas may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them.
  • The consumption of Margaritas may cause you to think you can logically converse with members of the opposite sex without spitting.

 

**The author of this is unknown**

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Naked, Naked, Naked

You probably think I came up with that title just to get your attention. Well, I did, but getting naked really is the topic of this blog.

I had the good fortune to be invited to the Island of Kaua’i by my cousin, who has been there six or seven times. It’s one of the places where she feels really grounded. She ought to, considering that she spent half her time hugging the trees.

Island of Kauai

It’s also one of the places where she takes off her clothes at every opportunity. And I mean every opportunity. I’m not just talking about “home,” which was the cottage we stayed in. I’m talking about the yard, the outdoor Jacuzzi, the beaches, the ponds, the waterfalls, the paths through the woods. Heck, I’m surprised she wasn’t naked on that helicopter tour. And everywhere we went, I trailed right behind her fully clothed.

Okay, so I’m a prude. I admit it. Always have been, always will be. Or maybe not. My mother used to be a prude and now she pretty much takes her clothes off in front of anybody, whether we want her to or not. But then, as she says, she’s old and can do as she pleases.

But back to me and my cousin. We rented this nice cottage above Secret Beach, which turned out to be the “nude” beach. I’m sure my cousin knew it because she and 24 other people once rented the main house. The cottage was down the lane (or through the orchard) from the main house, which was directly above the 300-foot almost-vertical decline to Secret Beach.

The first night it was too late to go down to the beach, but I could hear waves crashing so loud that they sounded like thunder. It was pretty scary, actually, and I wondered what a beach could look like with such powerful waves pounding it. When I slipped out at the light of dawn and went down by myself, I don’t think I even noticed the beach because right there passing back and forth across my line of vision was a naked guy, strutting as proudly as anyone possibly could. I can only use the word strutting because that’s what came to mind. And if I were a guy and I looked like that (naked), I would be strutting, too.

I thought about taking a photo, but there wasn’t much light and he wasn’t close enough for the flash to help, so the shutter speed would have been slow and the aperture would have been large, and the problem is that anything moving would be blurry. Sure, I could pan horizontally as the guy walked across my line of vision and that would keep him in focus, but there was a part of him that wasn’t moving horizontally; was, in fact, doing more of a vertical bounce. And if I couldn’t get an in-focus picture of that, the photo wasn’t worth taking. I swear to God (who probably will not like my oath on this particular subject), it’s a miracle that thing didn’t wrap around his knees and trip him.

That wasn’t my first experience with public nudity, and it certainly wasn’t my last. During our trip, my cousin went swimming naked in Bette Midler’s pond, in the lake under Wailua Falls, at Secret Beach and Ke’e Beach. When we went to the Blue Room, which is a cave that looks crystal blue due to tunneled sunlight, I thought no way would she swim nude in the freezing springs water. And when a family spilled out of the car next to us, I was even more relieved—until my cousin said, “Damn, I hate getting naked in front of kids.” I guess the parents didn’t care much for it either, since they magically disappeared about the time the halter top came off. I have to admit that those double D’s scared me a little bit too.

So while I have some beautiful pictures of Kauai, they are mostly devoid of living, breathing (and naked) people. I have plenty of memories, though. Memories of an (unexpected) truckload of Hawaiian workers gawking at me from 10 feet away the one and only time I gathered enough courage to walk naked to the outside Jacuzzi.

And then there’s that other, albeit made-up (though I’m sure it really happened), memory of my naked cousin and 24 of her naked friends climbing down that 300-foot cliffside to Secret Beach. I’m only glad I wasn’t waiting for them at the bottom because that would be a memory I’d never forget.

But maybe that would be okay, too, because aren’t memories supposed to be what life is made of?

See other photos from my visit to Kauai.

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Baby birds chirp, hummingbirds slurp, and I write

What’s the affirmation for today?

First I seek JOY, and all else follows.

Once upon a time, my desk window overlooked my garden. Ah, how I loved to sit there and write.

The window faced east, but the rising sun in the morning was blocked by a row of trellises that I’d put in with the help of a friend. There were four trellises, each 8 feet long with a couple of feet between them, and each about 8 feet tall from the ground. The garden part was mostly on the other side of the trellises, facing the street, but that didn’t matter. From my side–the side that I looked out at while writing, I could see the cascading coral honeysuckle vine. Birds–mockingbirds and cardinals–flew in with twigs to build their nests in the woody thicket. Often one of a pair would perch at the top of the trellis, standing guard, shooing away other birds that had the gall to think they might nest there too. Later, after the nest was finished, the pair took turns standing guard while one brought food for the babies. I started my writing around five a.m. and the babies began chirping, or rather, squeaking, around that time too. The squeaks became more frantic, reaching a crescendo as the parent bird, food clutched in its beak, lit on a nearby vine and and began nosing through the thicket to the nest.

trellis butterfly garden with coral honeysuckle vine

One morning, a ruby-throated hummingbird appeared. He zipped from flower to flower, hovering for a few seconds above each to drink the nectar. He seemed to hit them all, but never the same one twice. After that first day, hummingbirds showed up daily, several times a day.

One would think that having such a view would interfere with writing, that it would zap my concentration, but surprisingly, it didn’t. In fact, I wrote faster and better with that view than with any other before or after. I felt buoyed by hope and awe and joy, and those feelings didn’t dissipate when I drew my gaze from the view back to my work.

I’ve come to realize that I have to go to my writing with the expectation of experiencing wonder and joy. For many writers, those feelings come from their self-confidence, from knowing that they will write something they are proud of. I wish I were one of those writers, but I’ve never had self-confidence when it comes to things I create. When I lost my beautiful view after the hurricanes took it away, I lost my joy in writing; I had nothing to look forward to when I entered that room that looked out over a dismal, ravaged landscape.

I’m finally making a new view for myself, one that invites me to sit down and enjoy it while I write. Maybe I won’t always need a beautiful view to experience joy while I write; maybe someday that joy will come solely from within. I just know that to commit to something such as writing, which takes up every second of the “spare” time I don’t have, I need the expectation of joy, so first I seek JOY and I hope all else will follow.

View some photos of my garden on Facebook…

 

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Am I negative or are you just a jerk?

I have all of my Great Aunt Louise’s diaries, which she began back in 1926 when she was just 27 years old, and I have found myself so touched by her writing that it’s difficult to speak of it or even to read the passages aloud to myself without my eyes filling with tears.

My Great Aunt Louise was a remarkable woman with a profound faith in God, and I have yet to read a passage that isn’t saturated by a positive, joyous outlook on life. She writes about what a lucky woman she is, how every day is a beautiful day to be shared with God. She tells how she lives in a triangle of love and she draws a triangle with the words My Parents, Home, and Dale (her fiance) along the three sides. In the middle of the triangle is the word GOD.

She mentions an evening spent with friends, and then writes of how she wishes never to judge another human being and never to take away from someone through criticism or disinterest that which is uniquely his — his individuality — and how, though someone may be difficult to deal with, each of us brings something wonderful and special to this life. I inferred from her words that she had met someone that night who had sorely tried her patience, but I’ll never know who it was; she would never have written his name.

I found myself thinking wistfully about my writing eliciting the same feelings in a hundred years from a great niece who had never known me, and I mentioned it to my sister, who was as touched as I was by some of the passages and who agreed that I couldn’t leave behind a better legacy than my writing. And I believed her — until I spoke with my mother a couple of days later and brought up the subject of Great Aunt Louise (my mother’s aunt) to her.

My mother started to giggle and I asked what was so funny, thinking that perhaps I had gotten Great Aunt Louise all wrong. Maybe my secret romantic nature that always wants everything to turn out happily ever after had caused me to misinterpret the entries. But no. Mom wasn’t laughing about that.

“Yes, your sister told me about your conversation. We laughed so hard we had to hang up the phone. You’re so negative, after all. What could you hope to pass on?”

This gave me pause because I have never thought of myself as negative. True, I have a self-deprecating, cynical sense of humor, but that doesn’t mean that I see the world that way or expect everyone to behave in the worst possible manner. In fact, every morning as I drive to work I look at the gorgeous sky and thank God that I’m alive to enjoy such a sight. And it wasn’t just that my mother said that, it was also that my sister had been so supportive to me and then had called my mother so they could enjoy a laugh at my expense.

So, remembering that old saying that if one or two editors say something negative about your writing you can kill them (oops, I meant blow it off), but if three or more say it, you’d better take a hard look at it, I decided to poll a couple of friends. Not about my writing, since they haven’t read any of it, but about my being negative. I ended up asking just one.

“Yeah, you are pretty negative,” he said. When I asked him to explain, he said that I live in my own little world, unwilling to open up to new experiences. I won’t go out partying with him and his friends at night and I don’t want to play volleyball on the beach on the weekends or spend the day on the “party” boat (a paddleboat that moves so slowly that even the drunkest of drunks can maneuver it) because I want to stay in my own little house and write, or putter in my own little butterfly garden. He even brought up the fact that I don’t like seafood as further proof of my negativity.

I was depressed all night about the things he said, and even when I went to bed I felt like a failure as a human being. But when I awoke the next morning, I realized the first mistake I made was in assuming that he knew what he was talking about. So I asked myself, am I really a negative person or is he just a jerk?

I decided he’s just a jerk.

I quit partying every night when I got to the age of 30. I quit spending my weekends at beach parties and keg parties even earlier than that. I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying my home and my yard and my family and my friends and my home repair projects and yes, my writing. Why should I have to spend every night getting high with deadbeats, drinking in bars and eating seafood that I don’t like just because he thinks I should? Why didn’t I turn the tables and say that I find him negative because he goes out every night to party instead of staying home to write? As far as I’m concerned, I’m not the one with the problem. He is. He needs to grow up and get a real life and until he does, he needs to stop criticizing others for having one.

And then I thought about Great Aunt Louise again, and I vowed to change my attitude or at least the way I present myself so that people don’t misunderstand and think I’m negative. I don’t have to like seafood, but why did I even have to tell him that I don’t like seafood? And why do I have to criticize him for criticizing me? Just because I don’t consider partying every night to be a “real” life doesn’t mean it isn’t. It is for some people, just not for me.

I’m obviously not going to be the same kind of writer as my Great Aunt Louise. She probably met someone just like my friend that night when she wrote that she never wanted to judge others because we all bring something important to this world. Not me. I write that he’s just a jerk. And I hope that a hundred years from now someone can appreciate my writing anyway.

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