Birdwatching in Orlando

In the end I left my binoculars and field guide at home. The trip was a short one for Dave to attend a convention in Orlando where we stayed on International Drive (I-Drive)—an eleven-mile strip of chain restaurants, outlet malls, and amusement parks—not an obvious place to look for nature.

April was a hectic travel month with one day between west and east coast trips, so I only had time for a quick glance at a map before we repacked our suitcases and ran for a flight to Florida. A wildlife refuge had caught my eye, but it wasn’t until my first morning in Orlando that I got a chance to check it out more closely.

Dusky Seaside Sparrow by John James Audubon

St. Johns Refuge is located 45 miles east of the city, established in 1971 along the St. Johns River to protect the habitat of the endangered dusky seaside sparrow.  The little songbird has since been declared extinct.  The refuge is maintained today for several other threatened and endangered species but is closed to the public.

On my second day I was drinking a cup of coffee at a sidewalk table when I noticed the ducks.  Mallards—youngsters, I think.  They were foraging in the planter between I-Drive and the parking lot.  Two of them got into a scrap just before one of the females waddled  into the parking lot to cross over to another landscaped area, no different from the first: crape myrtles, honeysuckle, monkey grass.  I held my breath as she dawdled, crossing the driveway leading to the Starbuck’s drive-thru.  I feared a caffeine-deprived, late-to-work commuter would come wheeling in and run over her, but she made it.  The others were wise enough to fly across the drive into the Walgreen’s flower bed.  When I left a group of noisy crows had gathered on the roof to lecture the invading ducks.

Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

A few hours later at a bustling outdoor mall this guy with the crazy hairdo caught my eye.  It took me a moment to figure out he was a fledging—a starling, I think.  I stopped and watched from a distance as his mom encouraged him and he made a short clumsy flight up to an awning.  Shoppers hurried through the plaza never giving the birds a second glance. When Mom disappeared the youngster was stuck, couldn’t remember how to get his wings moving.  I forced myself to leave, certain she was nearby and would soon return to continue his flying lessons.

And that was the highlight of my trip to Orlando—not bad for never straying more than a few blocks off of I-Drive!


To Eat Just Once

To Eat Just Once:
Remembering a Ranger Lecture at
Yellowstone National Park
For Mel

After they kill, the wolves eat just once.

The pack, all tooth and jaw, with ribcages that jut
like opened Texas toothpick knives, feasts.

Their gray bellies fill and sag with new meat.

They used to eat twice or even three times
from downed prey, a straggling old deer or a slow fawn—

their dead eyes, like tumbled obsidian, still catching light—
the body dragged into an old tree

or quickly buried and left for later.
However, ranchers started poisoning

hidden carcasses so that at the second
meal, the wolves, bloated with pain,

would die.  Some, however, did live
and taught the others to eat just once

and leave like a swift wind,
a scattered gray line galloping into night.
—Kevin Rabas Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano

I am ending where I started, at the beginning of April, with a poem about wolves.   I have never met Kevin Rabas, but he was kind enough to allow me to reprint the full text of his poem. In this interview with KCUR 89.3 he offered three tips for writers.

Thank you Kevin and congratulations on being named the next Poet Laureate of Kansas!

Almost Alive

The less rain the more tumbleweeds
break loose from the fields
during December wind, roll the road
like a mass migration of animals,
pile up against the fences,
sacrificing themselves so those
who follow can bounce on over
and keep moving until they reach
the eaves of proper houses out there
on the edges of those little towns
where inside the elevator owner
prays for at least a sprinkle
to keep the winter wheat green.
—Randy Phillis Plots We Can’t Keep Up With

Somewhere in a box sitting at the back of a closet is a photo that goes with this poem—an old black and white with curled edges.  You can’t tell from the picture, but the little ranch house on Fairview Street with two elms in the front yard is painted green.  On the north side of the house in a shady flower bed next to the fence a few tiger lilies, planted by the former owner, bloom each summer.  Next door, just a few feet further north, Mr. Farrell, tends to his tomato plants and uses his shovel to kill the fat green worms that eat the leaves.

But the photo was taken in the late winter or early spring before the lilies have poked their heads out and the space is filled with tumbleweeds, piled against the fence—stacked so high that they have spilled over into the backyard, surrounding the clothesline poles and swing set. The invasion turns into an adventure once the wind stops blowing and Dad corrals the wayward weeds in a wire cage, set up in the alley, and lights a match.

It was the late sixties and two kids who had yet to meet would both remember those tumbleweeds years later. She would look up the Latin name (Salsola tragus) and discover the story of immigrants who, inadvertently, carried the Russian thistle seeds with them to the Midwest.  He would write a poem. Two different paths to the same memory.


Where I’m From

The blue notes spiraling up from the transistor radio
tuned to WNOE, New Orleans, lifted me out of bed
in Seward County, Kansas, where the plains wind riffed
telephone wire in tones less strange than the bird songs
of Charlie Parker.
—B.H. Fairchild, Hearing Parker for the First Time

What a thrill it was to read my first Fairchild poem, Angels.  By the time I got to the second line “hauling a load of Herefords from Hogtown to Guymon” I was hooked.  He knew the world I grew up in, from the maize fields to Highway 54.

One Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
Richard Blanco

I don’t remember hearing if there was a poem read at this year’s inauguration—I was in a bit of a funk— but I think it is a fine tradition. Blanco read his poem, One Today, at President Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

I love the image of the sun “charging across the Rockies.”

Veterano Sanctuary 

Full moon,

Paint job
half faded
summer nights
leave us half-faded.
Aye que Burque!
She’s one crazy lady!
—Carlos Contreras Time Served

I discovered Albuquerque poet Carlos Contreras in the AAA New Mexico magazine and was pleased to find  his book at my local library.

From the interview: “Like exercise is good for the body, words are good for the heart and soul.” I couldn’t agree more.

Oxlips and Violets

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet muskroses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night.
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delights.
And there the snake throws her enameled skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
—William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 2. Sc.1

It was a hectic week with taxes and travel.  To make up for the missed Monday and Tuesday posts here are a few lines of Shakespeare’s.  His birthday is tomorrow.

Several months ago I discovered the book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig.  It turns out it works pretty well for adults too!

Bear Season

We all want to see a mammal.
Squirrels & snowshoe hares don’t count.
Voles don’t count. Something, preferably,
that could do us harm.
Elizabeth Bradfield

Across the country from Connecticut to Mississippi* to California  bears are waking up and lumbering out of their dens.

No sign of them in my neighborhood yet–I’m hoping there’s enough food on the mountain to satisfy them and keep them out of trouble.

*Natchez: A wildlife biologist is warning people not to feed a young black bear that’s been wandering the streets of downtown.  US Today 4/19/17

Discovering William Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
—William Stafford

Years ago I heard my first William Stafford poem on the radio program Writer’s Almanac.  Garrison Keillor mentioned that Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914 and I was curious to know more about him. Much to my surprise he had graduated from Liberal High School, my high school, but I  don’t remember ever hearing him mentioned.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention.  

I’ve been looking for the perfect poem of his to share but have been unable to find the one about minnows that I wanted to post.  The one linked below is a new one to me, a chance encounter on a dark road.

Traveling through the Dark 



Forest Man

Jays land on the muscles of his branches, breasts high,
Churning their infinite tones.  Spiders trace a path
along his long legs, up the dusty window of his body.
The forest man spells of pine and chocolate mints.
Lauren Camp

The piñon trees in my yard and around town are dying.  Not all of them, but enough of them to be alarming.  Too hot, too many years of drought—I will miss them and wonder where the birds will go.  Check out the entire poem here.