Snow, Man it brings out Bizarre in Coastal South
Snow in the South disappears faster than a Baptist spotted in a liquor store. Yet no matter how fleeting, here in coastal Virginia snow is EPIC.
Compare that with hurricanes, a real threat but of which we have become somewhat blasé. We rather have a Hurricane Party than evacuate. As if massive cocktail consummation during hundred mile an hour winds, can help hold down the house. But dang it –somebody’s got to grill all that mystery meat in the freezer.
Now snow is a rarity, and rarely a threat to our survival. It is not as if we’re living back in the Little House on the Prairie days. Yet, local TV covers the chance of one flake falling from the sky in Chicken Little-like hysteria.
And they suck us in every time.
Granted this is the Weather Channel M.O. 24-7 but I cut them some slack since all they have to report on is “weather.” On the other hand, reporters have lots of stuff to film; traffic, crime, sports and major news stories that impact our lives. Like the effort to abolish a 1963 law requiring that new North-South streets be named after Confederate military leaders.
I kid you not.
Okay, there is unintended humor on our news even without weather.
Nevertheless, some of the silliest reporting happens when white stuff hits south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Can we put a panel of New Englanders together and video their reaction to this recent newsflash from the Virginian-Pilot?
Some areas continued to see a flurry or two, but the snow appears to have ended for most everyone. Today’s highs won’t get out of the 20s with a cold, blustery wind. Officials have warned folks to bundle up and keep warm.
We don’t need Big Brother in the South –we have Big Mama. “Officials” have to warn Virginians to wear a coat when temperatures dip. Have Maine-ers laughed their thermals off yet?
This winter weenie readily admits that Virginia is indeed in the South but our derrieres are not exactly sitting on the equator. Our bikinis are mothballed, thankfully, for 7 months. True, most of us may not have need of a snow shovel in the garage but we do have LL Bean wear in the closet.
Still just the idea of white precipitation takes on an Apocalypse Now fever as we race to our local Food Dog to “stock-up.” Even the lactose intolerant help clear out the milk aisle, why? Where have you been man? Major snowstorm, they are calling for 1 -2 inches –we’re going to be snowed in for like, forever!
Our snow paranoia is reinforced by the powers that be even when a “dusting” is being forecast. They say Eskimos have 100 words for snow. We Southerners have two: Closings and Delays.
Laughable I know if you are a Yankee living where snow removal is down to a science. Does Michigan close its schools, businesses, and government every time it snows a quarter of an inch much less 2 feet? All the cold states in the Union would be poor, illiterate anarchies.
In my neck of the Southern woods, we also close when it’s “too cold” and we have fog delays when transporting our children in large, neon-orange school buses. Again, New Englanders, just how do your children get through a school year?
One thing you can say about Southerners and snow –we know how to revel in it. We have way more fun with half an inch than Northerners do with mountains of white. [Negating ski slopes of course.]
Even with the green grass poking out, we bundle-up the kids –per the official Big Mama warning, and make that obligatory snow person. Sure, we have to roll a golf ball-size snowball literally an acre to make the top of a pinhead snowman. [Maybe our snow peeps have political aspirations.] Does not matter a wit, we take a zillion pics and proudly post them all over Facebook.
Southerners are legendary for finding a way to mark any, and all occasions with food offerings. Like the mile long casserole brigade that forms before the obit hits the newspaper.
No different for the major life alternating event called snow. Regardless of how little we actually have to work with, we whip up a delicious concoction of “snow cream.”
The stray pebble or two just gives it a nice crunch.
All in all, still safer than Hurricane Parties.
Bambi on the Beach
The tasseled-topped stalks of the dune grass stood like soldiers in the post dawn stillness. Coupled with the chill it drew the world in crisp, radiant detail. Outside my window, the bare branches of winter looked engraved on the backdrop of morning. The red holly berries popped. A swath of lavish blue was the bay.
Before heading out my cold intolerance required donning multiple layers of wool and down –the characters in Doctor Zhivago, look naked in comparison. Winterizing complete I grabbed my coffee thermos and headed for a stroll. I should have been burning up the truckload of unspent calories that I imagined were arguing about where to settle next –thighs or bum? [Course NOT boobs, been waiting for that since I was 16.]
Well, sometimes you just have to stop and smell the salt air. I also hoped I would meet up with the girls on the beach, always a treat.
Just minutes into the bay woods, I joined them. Clothed in beige gray, only when they moved did I notice them scamper with tails flipping a flash of white in my direction. I froze and immediately they too halted.
There is an angelic silence to deer and a most innocent curiosity. They could have kept on moving, yet they choose to stay. The five white-tailed does turned their heads and were close enough for me to watch their large, almond eyes intently watching me.
Reminds me of a close encounter of the deer kind involving my first cat Mugsy. He was a legend around these beachy parts.
“We wish we had a camera!” exclaimed my neighbor Carolyn over the phone. “Jim and I spent an hour watching Mugsy and this doe. She first saw him from across the yard and she watched him walking around. He totally ignored her but you could tell he knew she was there. She kept looking, looking, and inching her way towards him, sniffing the air trying to figure out what kind of strange creature this was. Finally, he lied down and she came over. For the longest time Mugsy just stretched out without a care, while this deer gave him a thorough inspection.”
Nowadays that encounter would have been a YouTube sensation.
Another intriguing Bambi experience that still leaves me puzzled happened years ago. It was the thick of hunting season so hearing shotgun fire was a common occurrence. Weird however was the herd of deer I saw through my glassed living room standing statue-like on the sand.
They formed a circle; hind ends in, heads facing out on full alert. As I got this post together, I spent far too much time Googling the apparent phenomenon. I found no record of anyone else observing this formation, much less why deer would behave like this in the first place. [Now if I needed info on analyzing every move house cats make, or famous men and women behaving badly, there was a plethora of data orbiting cyberspace.] I can only surmise that it was a response to the threat spoken in the Disney movie –“man was in the forest,” that initiated the herd’s circling-the-wagons protective mode.
However, it is not odd to find tracks on our beach, proof that deer dance along our gentle dunes under the cover of darkness. It makes it a welcome surprise seeing them along the shoreline during daylight. Without the protective screen of brush, the deer move with a serene stealth as they cross the beach, their carriage regal. Even in the shifting sand, they take each step with the delicate grace of ballerinas on pointe.
Inevitably, something will spook them and as if choreographed, they will burst from the scene in a sequence of effortless leaps, perfectly in sync.
The innate grace of deer is what Walt Disney wanted his animators to capture in his 1942 film Bambi. He not only had a renowned painter teach them about deer anatomy and movement, but also set up a small zoo on the set. There his artists could observe up-close the movement of a pair of fawns named –of course Bambi and Faline. The film’s placement in the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Classic American Films –Animation genre –is proof that Wally got it right.
I derive such peace watching these poetry-in-motion beings. I hope our shores provide them with the same sense. Here they have no worries. This woman “in the forest” only shoots off her mouth.
“How many living things you have made, O Lord! You have exhibited great skill in making all of them; the earth is full of the living things you have made.” Psalm 104:24
New Year, New Eyes
Crazy can be a subjective term. One might apply it to someone who dons their shorts and plunges into the numbing December waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Further evidence; like asking Edward Scissorhands for a pedicure, my also barefoot Jim threw caution to the wind as he maneuvered our jagged oyster reef.
Yet in his usual cheerful manner, Jim harvested the succulent bivalves, a hero to his cheering fans on shore who had the good sense to wear coats and shoes.
“Aren’t these fun?” called out Jim, his smile as huge as the bounty he held over his head.
“Oysters!” shouted Janson jumping up and down on the beach next to his girlfriend, my daughter Alex.
Every since the two had arrived during their college break Jim had promised platefuls of fresh from the Bay salty-sweet oysters iced with dollops of tangy cocktail sauce. A graduate student from China, Janson relishes with gusto anything from his new country, from culinary to cartoons.
That evening with nearly 100 oysters chilling before him, the rest of us held back to enjoy Janson’s gleeful appreciation.
“Oh oysters, I love oysters!” he cried. “I eat them and eat them!”
It wasn’t long until all that remained was Janson’s satisfied grin and his chorus of thank yous. I have always loved oysters but experiencing them and everyday life through Janson’s eyes for the last 6 months – I see the seemingly ordinary in a new way.
I see many things differently now, my whole life in fact.
It’s not the attitude adjustment the self-help books proclaim. This goes far beyond a mere tune-up; we are talking fresh off the showroom floor, new model! Who would have thunk it?
I got Jesus and I got joy.
Might sound crazy finding joy during two years of hardships when I struggled with a drastically reduced income, barely, I mean barely hanging onto my house. While the closest thing I had to a 401K plan after 52 years of life was the change found in my washing machine, and the Shady Rest Home of the future was looking like a refrigerator box behind Wally-Mart.
I once would have thought joy was impossible in this scenario. Maybe like you I had been tricked into believing that happiness is interchangeable with joy.
In my teens, I longed for the life played out in all those Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and Coke commercials where everyone is young, beautiful, carefree, and having fun dancing in the streets, diving into lakes, and singing on a hilltop.
That’s the catch with happiness. It’s circumstantial, it’s fleeting. Get that soda of choice [or that new car, new shoes or fabulous vacation] and you will be happy.
Now, I’m not knocking happiness. I would be grinning ear to ear if I was on a Caribbean beach sipping a Pina Coloda when its 20 degrees in Virginia.
But depending on things or situations to fully savor life is as shaky as believing if I bought the world a Coke aka “The Real Thing” there would be world peace. [And have you read the ingredients in a can of Coke lately?]
Happiness did not sustain me during these “Cusinart” Years – the Puree button was clearly stuck for a long time. I survived and in many ways thrived with my rock and refuge, a constant God who never left me, who loved me when others didn’t care what happened after I was no longer any use to them.
Because of faith, I did not have to rely on my own strength, which was as pathetic as Olive Oil –Popeye’s better half, trying to bench press 300 pounds. On my own, I was overwhelmed to the point where getting my head off the pillow was nearly an impossible task.
Instead, when God lives in us we can tap into the power of the creator. Think about this –the unfathomable power that created the world, put all the stars in the sky, and which not only parted the Red Sea but also formed every minute detail of the oceans. Have you ever studied a seashell? It’s mind blowing!
During the storms, I learned what I would not have during days of smooth sailing. A huge lesson was the knowing in my heart that with God I would never have to face anything alone –ever.
My priorities fell into order. This Christmas there was no diamond tennis bracelet and tons of gifts that took me an hour to open as in past years. Back then, the material thrill was short-lived and I soon felt as empty as the gift boxes. In my usual Drama Queen Style, I would lie on the sofa Christmas night and listen to Patsy Cline singing tortuously sad tunes over and over again.
I am a professional worrier, so wondering how to make it financially through the weeks ahead even without the added burden of the Buy! Buy! Buy! Holiday Syndrome could have done me in. God knocked me upside the head, as He usually has to do.
Let it all go and give it to me, He said.
In peace, my reward was sharing time with Jim, his daughter Casey, Alex, Janson, and friends, especially our church community. I savored the most joyful holiday in memory. Its warm glow lives in my heart, and I believe in those closest to me as well.
Continuing into this new year, my hope for you is to see your life in a new light, the light of God and unshakable joy.
Now that’s –the real thing!
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
It’s Not the Devil in the Details
The book Horton Hears a Who made an impression on me as a child. Horton the elephant, being large as elephants tend to be, discovers on a tiny speck of dust a whole city of persons in Whoville. A metropolitan of amazing detail encompassed in a speck that sweet Horton protects atop a single stem of clover.
Who would have thunk it?
I may be derriere-deep in my fifties but lately the author of my childhood Dr. Seuss, has inspired me to explore my beach with a keen eye turned to the tiny.
Much like Horton’s clover, just a cupful of bay water along a tidal flat can be filled to the brim with life. I have seen a colony of button-size periwinkles, looking like they were tossed in those miniature pools. Upon closer inspection, the purple-speckled shells can indeed reveal the foot of its snail inhabitant or the many legs of a teeny hermit crab, flailing at the Gulliver staring down.
The eternal enjoyment of beach walking is collecting nature’s beautiful sculptures we call seashells. Cupped in our hands is a unique piece of art, free for the giving. I love whelk shells dabbled in whisper pink and creamy white. If you really look at one, for me that means putting on my glasses, its intricate carvings are nothing short of miraculous. Each has a spiral that circles around the top like an elegant staircase ending in a regal pinnacle.
Finding a broken one use to be a letdown since I only wanted “perfect” shells to display in my porch clam basket. I now realize that peak inside is fascinating. That “spiral staircase” recalls memories of looking down from the last step of a lighthouse.
Other beach elements have stories written by salty winds and waters. Driftwood, those castaways of the sands are ordinary no longer dressed in a silver hue. Often surprisingly smoothed by rough weather, it is a tactile pleasure that talks of the past.
Not yet driftwood, I find myself taking in the stands of old twisted trunks still rooted in the ground after the Bay has claimed what once was woodland. Watching the tides swirl around their fleeting foothold is a delightful dance of water and pooling light.
Our Creator is an accomplished artist whose works find a willing canvas on the coast. His majestic power we feel and see standing before the open sea. Though let us not miss His many “small” gifts almost hidden in plain sight.
Against the Wind
Dedicated to Charlene Garcia Weeks or G.A.[Guardian Angel] as I called her. She flew in out of nowhere and helped carry me through one of my worst storms. She is certainly with the angels now.
“Walking in the wind makes me angry,” a friend who also hikes for fitness once told me.
I can relate. Often I’ve hit the beach in winter and wanted to turn back the blowing was so intense.
One particular time is stuck in memory.
With a storm brewing offshore, I trudged along the sands. The forceful air stung my eyes making them water such I had to keep wiping them in vain to try to see ahead. The wind howled in my ears and the crashing waves it produced blocked out my usual serene surround. I grumbled as I spent the first 15 minutes bargaining with myself.
Ok, how much time do I really have to put in for this to count as a legitimate workout? This extra effort is surely burning mega calories! I could probably shave off a half an hour easy.
I checked to see how my walking partner was taking all this. At first, I did not see her then with a burst, she ran up and leaped three feet in the air. My silly Australian Shepherd turned her head toward her ridiculously over bundled companion and gave that wide doggie grin. “Isn’t this just the best beach walk ever, Ma?”
I had to laugh as Bay-Leigh gleefully ran against the push of the wind. Rather than be taken aback it energized her. Knowing her so well I could see how she took the elements as a challenge. She cranked up her usual vigor bounding toward the bay and back, playing tag with the foamy waters clawing at the shore. Putting it in full throttle, she ran towards me. She circled round and before tearing ahead once again, made eye contact, an encouraging look to get her slowpoke mom in the game.
The assaulting storm would eventually abate and in its wake, I would find a plethora of treasures waiting for me on the sands. A variety of choice seashells would be strewed about to marvel and collect. And with some luck a piece or two of sea glass or a vintage bottle would be found intact, aged by its seasons in the water to aqua or softest lavender.
The storm’s churned-up waves might even uncover the rarest finds. I would thrill at holding in my hand an arrowhead made by those who first called the Chesapeake Bay home thousands of years ago. Thousands –wow!
Life’s storms also have a way of uncovering hidden treasures. Something we don’t usually get when in the throws of the turmoil.
I certainly didn’t. When I lost the job I once loved -and once so conveniently paid the mortgage -I was sent reeling. A surfer term aptly describes it as a WIPEOUT. Between the personal pain and the fear of very possibly loosing my home, life was not fun.
However, as my “gale” stirred things up it also sifted through some of my major life issues in ways a comfortable “calm” could never do. I recognized how the job’s insurmountable pressures were making me sick. I finally got it through my thick head that if I stayed in that position things would never change. I was trapped. As the months rolled on, I began to see how this storm freed me. My energy for life started to return.
As shells tossed up on the beach, the upheaval revealed treasures –true friends. The true character of those I thought were friends was also revealed. However, people I barely knew or didn’t know at all miraculously overshadowed that hurt. Seemingly, out of nowhere they arrived on the scene with hands-on support that meant more than I can express in words.
As the veil of fear lifted, I could clearly see God’s hand in all of this. He was leading me down a new and amazing path. Along the way, He took care of all my needs, just as He promised.
Hope replaced my anger. Not to say this happened overnight –far from it! However, I was able to find the joy in the tempest when I embraced my faith.
Faith –that deep knowing that like the wind at your back God has your back; and He is guiding you towards something better than we could ever imagine.
“No, I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm – I will come to you.” John 14:18
Sound of Silence
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” *
The scene was set perfectly; a bursting moon spilling through barren branches, the chilled air so still it became an aural canvas. Then I heard it. It mimicked memory, the sound we were taught as children, a deep barreled “Whoo, whoo”.
Spellbound, I ventured from my warm bed on this near winter night onto my upstairs veranda; no small feat for someone who shuns temps lower than 70. But I realized then so many years ago that I had never heard an owl before, at least not in its element.
At home he was somewhere in the cluster of trees that front my stretch of the Chesapeake Bay. “Whoo, whoo,” echoed in the hush of the waves, the audible gaps between the calls provided a theatrical pause. Following it I finally made out the Great-Horned Owl.
Untold time I stood there, mesmerized. This singular voice made a capsule of the night and filled it with tangible magic.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.- Mother Teresa
Pow! Pow! Pow! I was jolted out of sleep this morning, the ceaseless hammering made even more jarring by its lack of rhythm. The screech of an angry saw accompanied it along with a diesel engine’s roar.
“This sucks,” I grumbled.
I made my way downstairs the usual tangle of eager cat legs following. Feeding Sailor and Max I reminded myself that this house wasn’t constructed in silence.
Still I felt robbed of my morning serenity. My usual wake-up call is a blessed mix of bay murmurings and woods -speak.
This time of year I often open the door to a warm fall day, plentiful here in Coastal Virginia. There is no assault of sound. In fact it’s easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention to the soft background music. The choir of crickets is chirping gleefully, oblivious to the inevitable reach of winter that signals their swan song.
Often the surprise of a Kingfisher in flight adds a sharp chee,chee whistle, a brief solo before it and its call vanish. Walking down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, I’ll pass a wild hedgerow. With waves of birds on fall migration through the Eastern Shore peninsula, it’s apt to be alive with the songs of unseen birds. Pert voices followed by the rustle of leaves when they realize they are not alone.
I must be turning into a cranky old lady. The construction noise isn’t horrible like a jackhammer going off outside my window. And I can block out the racket and function until the house is built and the noise stops.
Yet this all serves to remind me how huge an impact sounds have on my being. For the most part man-made sounds SHOUT at us, hammering away at our calm. My pet peeve is leaf blowers. Get a rake!
There are exceptions; a train whistle sounding in the distance, a ticking clock, when clocks use to tick. But overall nature’s noises are songs for the soul.
Like the seashore that speaks to me in the rhythm of the rolling waves. It creates a space apart from life’s clatter –both outside and in my head. The tranquil sounds of the ocean allow room in my psyche; room to tune into God’s wavelength, to pray and absorb precious peace.
I once read “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” *
Perhaps why that long ago night is cemented so deeply in detail. In the stillness the owl’s haunting cry wasn’t all that spoke to me.
“Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10
* Baba Ram Das
October 10, 2013
The infinite clouds formed a billowing canopy of periwinkle fringed in fuchsia. The sun, almost an afterthought was a small dome of gold, with a halo of impossible pink. Cast in the spell of an autumn sunset the sky was remarkable in its own right, but reflected in the bay below it was a stop-you-in-your-tracks vision. An earthly beauty so profound I thought, this is surely a teaser for heaven.
There really is no bad backdrop for this day’s end show. But to me a watercolor sunset is without rival. Like watercolor paintings the sinking sun is immersed in its surroundings, changing hues from seashell pink to bold orange one evening, and vapor blue to intense cobalt another. All the while the Creator’s brush blurs the lines of sea and sky.
This wonder is in my backyard almost daily on Mermaid Bay, my little cove on the Chesapeake. It’s a no cost, tax-free [shh!] pleasure that requires no passport.
As you can imagine I often celebrate my personal Applaud the Sun event. You know, sipping wine on the sands, sometimes rocking on the bay porch, or at the very least curled up with cats Sailor and Max in front of the sliding glass doors. [Insert sheepish grin.] Uhm, not exactly. I’ve missed many that were right in front of my eyes!
As a child I was taught not to waste anything.
I grew up with a heavy seasoning of Italian-Catholic and can still hear my favorite Aunt in her South Philly-Speak –“It’s a sin to waste food!”
Well, lately I realize it’s a sin to waste sunsets.
What brought me to this sudden revelation to appreciate nature? Actually it was my human nature. Don’t we usually miss what’s been around always –only after its gone? The Doors’ song nailed our fickle behavior with “Don’t you love her as she’s walkin’ out the door?”
Until recently I have been renting out my beach house as a vacation rental. For months I could no longer view with minimal effort, the sun kissing the bay goodnight.
I missed it. I missed it something awful.
It reminded me of when my good friend Dora, filled with the wisdom of being raised in a very sensual country Greece, decided she was going to start her days in the bay, literally. Swimming, floating…just being. She didn’t want 9 to 5 responsibilities to rob her of a finite summer pleasure.
Several years ago when I interviewed Ned Brinkley, an international birding expert, he marveled at how many of us stare down at the ground, hardly ever looking UP at the world alive with wings.
But it needed be that way. I simply need to remember:
Stop. Unplug. And put the lunacies of life on hold. [Hey, it’s not like they’re going anywhere!]
Sunsets and bird songs, and inhaling those proverbial roses –all feasts for the senses the good Lord serves up on this silver platter we call Earth. When we connect to creation, we connect to our Creator and in turn ourselves.
Or as Mr. Thoreau so aptly stated: “There is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”
October 4, 2013
I step from my porch through the cluster of trees and immediately I’m awash in a tidal hymn; the sacred hush of waves embracing sand, the watery sigh when forced to retreat to sea, the triumphant swoosh when reuniting with the welcoming shore.
The courtship of tide and terrra firma is ceaseless. Serene, calming, a comforting echo of our first safe harbor. From our very beginnings, we swam in a secret bay; cradled, lulled in the music of living waters.
For nearly two decades my safe harbor has been a Chesapeake Bay outpost on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. It’s a wild swath of sandy beach aside a maritime forest of pines brushing against impossibly blue skies, and on this mild autumn morning, framed in a golden fringe of marsh.
In 1994 my husband and I discovered this treasure and built my dream –a house on the beach. Here the Bambis far outnumber the two-legged beachcombers and bald eagles soar above. A far gull’s cry from the beaches of my youth where Darwin could have pointed to sea gulls who long adapted to diets of cheese doodles stolen from acres of tourists.
I named our home Mermaid Bay. Silly for someone who flunked Doggy Paddle 101 but fitting for the enchantment of our coastal haven.
Sadly, my husband gave me the beach house as a substitution for what he couldn’t give and the marriage ended. But by the grace of God it continued to shelter my daughter Alex and me for the next 15 years. Miraculous really, in a rural community where a college degree couldn’t even promise a burger flipping job.
Looking back I clearly see the hand of God at work in my life as I parlayed a part-time freelance writing career into six years as a newspaper reporter. I covered everything from bake sales to bank robberies and honed a hound dog-like nose for stories. The schedule was doctor’s hours with dogcatcher wages. But friends helped with Alex and often she accompanied me and learned up close the hilarity of small town politics.
Later a speed bump marriage, brief in duration but long in consequences, put our home in dire jeopardy. Again the good Lord dropped in my lap a surprising new career as the first tourism director for the region. The ride was pretty bumpy but I got over that speed bump!
“Tsunami” life changes still happen. I’m gratefully back to my first passion –writing. But like the Lord’s love, Mermaid Bay has been a constant. Countless times strolls along her shoreline have calmed my inner storms. Like a prayer the ceaseless tides sing to me of the creator’s eternal grace –here on God’s canvas of sea & sky.
“The sailors were glad that the storm was quiet. He guided them to the harbor they had longed for.” Psalm 107:30