Programmed for Paper

I’m programmed for paper.
Both my parents were avid readers, and they raised my sister and me to be the same way.
Our house was always full of books and magazines. As a child, I’d always buy five or more books each summer, read them, and then swap them around the neighborhood, anxious to get my hands on more. More books. More paper.
Also, my dad was in advertising, and one benefit of the job was he’d receive every magazine his ads were in. We probably got twenty-five or thirty magazines each month. I never knew the magazines came because of his job. I thought everyone got them, that houses came with magazines.
So, I grew up reading. I was never one to fold a page down to keep my place, but I’d often lay a book or magazine down, spread open to the page I was on. Occasionally I’d even use a bookmark.
At age sixty-four, I bought an iPad, and when preparing for a trip, I downloaded Kindle and got a few free books. I never read them, choosing instead to pack several books for the trip.
Then, a month later , I had to get my hands on a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder quickly to read in time for my next book group. I looked on line and found a used copy that would cost me only about four dollars, shipped. But it would take about a week for me to get, maybe longer if the shipper was slow. So I took a deep breath and did it: I bought the Kindle version for around $11.
Never thought I’d do it, but I have to say it was interesting. I really liked that I could turn the machine off, but when I went back to read again, it would open to the page where I’d left off. Too many times, with a paper book, I neglect to put the book down properly, and set it instead on its back cover, and it promptly closes, losing my spot. Kindle never forgot what page I was on.
I also liked that I could read at night without a light on! Fabulous. The Kindle is back lit, easy to read in the dark. When I wanted to stop, I’d simply close the cover on my iPad.
But a Kindle is not paper. I like the feel of a book in my hands. I like the smell of paper. I like turning pages, and I like bookmarks. I even like laying the book down, spread wide, holding my place for me.
I usually have a book or in the car, for in case I’m early arriving somewhere, stuck in traffic, or if I see a sweet park or shady rest area and feel the need to read for awhile. Carrying my iPad is just as easy, except I can’t leave it in a hot car for the afternoon as I can an old paperback. I have to always carry it with me if I want a book on hand.
I like that I can leave a book out on the front porch and no one will steal it. Can’t imagine leaving my iPad out for a day or two. And if it rains? Paper is reasonably forgiving, and although the pages may be warped and wavy, I can still read my book. My iPad would drown for sure.
One of the things I like best about paperbacks is finding them used. I can roam the thrift shop or stop at a yard sale, and often as not I leave with a book or two. Or three. And if I enjoy reading the book, I always know someone to pass it on to.
It is such a joy to find a good mystery for a quarter, or even better, for a dime. And it is a joy to pass a book on. E-books will sit on my iPad forever, or at least until I delete them, but I’ll never find one at a yard sale, and I’m not about to loan out my iPad for a week so a friend can read the book. I’ll never find an e-book for a dime.
I like the look of a bookshelf covered with books. I love to go into the home of a friend who is a book lover. I gravitate to the bookshelf, gazing at titles, pulling off interesting books, negotiating a loan. How do you do that with e-books? They sit on a tablet. They don’t line a shelf, leaning to the side or propped up with a brick or a vase or a pile of books stacked on their backs.
Something is lost with an e-book. True, you can carry a dozen or so books in one small tablet. Or a hundred if you so choose. But to touch a book, to finger the cover, to flip it over and read the back cover nurtures my soul. In a moment I can keep the book or put it back, based on holding it in my hand and seeing if it speaks to me. To pick up a book that someone else has read, see the worn pages and read notes someone else has written in the margin feeds me in a way the pages of an e-book never could.
I fear the day there are fewer of those dime and quarter books in the thrift store, fewer because people are buying e-books. I’m sure book publishers fear that, too.
I also fear our children will not learn to love books and magazines and newspapers. One of my earliest memories is of “helping” my dad read the paper by pointing out the few words I knew. I was three, and I would pick up his newspaper, scanning for “the” or “and” or “to.” I’m sure that can be done on a tablet, but part of reading a paper is folding it, arranging it so the story I want to read is centered in front of me.
I enjoyed Small Wonder. I found I could highlight sections of the e-book – and some mysterious popup would sometimes happen telling me that three others had highlighted the same section. That connected me, in a way, to other readers. But it’s still not the same. I want that book on my shelf. I want to loan it out and have it come back. I want to touch the paper, smell that delicious book smell, and lay it down spread open to save the page I’m on.

Mountain Driving

Oh give me a home
Where the buffalo roam
And the deer and the antelope play

My godson suggested that I not leave Taos by heading east, into Raton, NM. He said it would be easier, and faster, to get to Boulder by heading north from Taos and then cutting east. He pointed out that HWY 64was a narrow winding road that went way up into the mountains. Sounded great to me! I ignored his advice and took HWY 64.
Up, up, up. Then the sign: road narrows. My kind of sign; keeps out the riffraff.
Squirrels and chipmunks. Deer. Deer, playing. I lowered the windows so I could breathe in the delicious forest. Made a few stops to walk and simply take in the beauty.
Up in these mountains, signs of drought were everywhere. Grasses were tan, not green. There were streams, but they didn’t run down the mountain. They meandered. Way up, around 8500 feet, there was a beautiful lake. It was clear the water level was low. Then I saw the proof – a twenty foot dock that ran out from the shore and never touched water. 
Down out of the mountains into the high llano, the high, flat grasslands. I glanced to the left. Slammed on my brakes. Yep, those were buffalo!
I quickly parked and grabbed my camera. As I approached the little herd (they were on the other side of a fence), I noticed they all had ear tags. They were destined to be burgers one day. Unlike in the song, they weren’t roaming.
A large bull watched me approach. He and the other bulls began to move away from me, driving the females and calves away. Then the big guy turned his back on me, just as I was in position to get a good photo. That’s when I noticed what was actually happening. The bulls remained closest to the road and the females were farthest away. Between them were the oblivious calves who continued to romp and roll in the dust. However, they were safe, completely encircled by the adults.
I took a few shots (camera!) and then headed on down the road. Looked to the right and hit my brakes. Yep, it was an antelope. Not playing, as the song had suggested.
I slowly emerged from my car, camera ready, but this antelope was skittish and wouldn’t let me get close. He’d graze – or attempt to – while keeping watch and easing away from me. He kept trying to find something edible, pawing repeatedly at the dry grass in an attempt, I suppose, to uncover a more tender root. He was completely frustrated, unable to eat a thing. I had to leave before I became completely depressed.
East to I-25, then north. Massive mountains were to my west, and I realized how tall they were when I remembered I was already at about a 6300 foot elevation. Miles later I came over a hill, and there in front of me was Denver. More massive than the mountains, it spread for miles and miles.
even with five lanes, traffic slowed to 30-40 mph and I couldn’t wait to get past the city, off 25 and onto 36 up to Boulder. 
Finally! Onto 36, the last 12 or so miles ahead of me. And traffic came to a dead stop. Accident up ahead. I eventually got past it and into Boulder.
Whew! I was sure ready for dinners and a good night’s sleep. Got both. 

truth or Consequences

T or C
I am at one of my favorite places: the banks of the Rio Grande. And it is my favorite time of day, dawn.
Dawn comes later here than in Arizona this time of yer because Arizona, wisely, does not subscribe to the now pointless Daylight Savings Time ritual that drives the ret of the country  crazy twice a year. We have another lovely day while everyone else moves from room to room resetting digital clocks.
At Cochise College, where I worked before RETIREMENT, though, it was not so easy. The college decided to purchase wildly expensive clocks that were controlled by some master timekeeping machine in Colorado. Colorado, of course, follows Daylight Savings Time, so twice a year, can you guess what happened? Yep. Every clock on campus automatically changed time, and the maintenance guys would have to roam the buildings for days, resetting each clock.
But I digress. I am in downtown Truth or Consequences at Riverbend Hot Springs. The town has not yet come alive since it’s not even six o’clock. I have the river almost to myself. I share it only with a few early morning birds and one lonesome bullfrog.
I have been coming to this wonderful place for years and I love it a little more each time I visit. The owner of Riverbend has constructed a deck that hangs out over the river, so of course that is where I sit, rather than further back from the river on the flagstone patio. 
It is a delight to sit here in the morning chill after yesterday’s scorching 100 degree weather. Lacking cool weather clothes, I’ve had to wrap a towel around myself to keep warm. Soon the one of the tubs will be full and I can slide into the steamy water.
There are five pools here, plus three private ones. The private ones are pricey and I’ve never used them. The five public pools spill one into the next, each one about two degree cooler than the previous one, so there are a variety of soaking temperatures available. The last pool spills into the Rio Grande.
The only problem with this wonderful place is cost. It used to be Bisbee-esque, that is, a bit run down and funky. Each room was different, quirky. And it was affordable. 
Today, not so.  The rooms have been rehabbed. Most are painted the same colors, and all the bedspreads match. the plumbing is new. and the cost has gone up significantly. This means I’ll be an infrequent guest in the future.
Although there is a river, this area seems to be in almost as much drought as Arizona. I have never seen the river so low. It is still wide, but so shallow and moving at such a lazy speed I could probably get in and wade it.
People who cross this river further south often do so in inner tubes. When there is no drought, when there is a good summer of rain, the river runs fast and deep, and people struggle across it. Some die trying to cross into the US. But this year, since Texas, too, is in such drought, I imagine this great river isn’t much more than a trickle in some areas.
The sky is now pink. Time to get into that water!

I’ll Never Fly Again! (until next time)

Note to self: never board a plane without a toothbrush in my carry-on. And a comb. 

It wasn’t bad enough to spend all that time  checking my bag and getting through security in Raleigh. Then, of course, I had to sit and wait for the plane. And wait. Then they posted a gate change for the plane. It wasn’t announced, just posted. 

Up. Walk. Find new gate. It was past boarding time before they changed the departure time on the sign. Again, no announcement.

We eventually boarded about 45 minutes past the original boarding time, and I began to be nervous about connecting with my flight in Atlanta. 

The ride was beautiful! Huge cumulous clouds stacked higher than the 30,000 flight path. They looked thick land chunky, the kind you could surely jump into and have fun bouncing around in.

There was one huge wall of dark cloud. It must have been 600-700 feet tall, standing above the fluffy cumulous clouds. It looked like a movie set, not at all real.

About the time we passed the huge dark cloud, the pilot announced that there was a major storm in Atlanta and that landing would be delayed. This actually reassured me a bit because I figured my departing flight would also be delayed. However, we then had to sit on the tarmac for another 20 or 30 minutes.

Deplaning moved very slowly, but as soon as I was able, I zipped by the other passengers. I found that my connecting flight was at gate E 37. I was at B 9. It didn’t look hopeful.

Although I dashed through the terminal, rode the little train, and did some more dashing, the door to my plane was closed when I arrived at E 37. The woman told me it had already left, but it wasn’t gone. It was still at the gate. No matter how I begged, she made no attempt to notify the pilot that I (and now others) was there.

I was sent on a half-mile hike to a service desk where there were three agents working: one for the first class people (all three of them), one for the international people (two of them), and one harried woman for the thirty or more of us who were lowly general passengers. 

There was a phone bank with signs proclaiming they we help phones, but everyone who stood and spoke on the phone ended up in the long line of angry passengers awaiting service.

After about 45 minutes waiting, it was finally my turn. Since it was a weather-related problem, Delta wouldn’t put me on any other airline, so I had to spend the night in Atlanta. The agent told me the costs of the different motels (with the special Delta discount), and I just asked for the cheapest motel – Motel 6. $42 plus tax with the discount.

By the time I got to the motel shuttle and then to the motel, it was 9:15. There I found out the price I’d been quoted was wrong, by $13. I complained and decided to call Delta to get a room down the street at a $49 motel. Motel 6, it turned out, had no Internet and no breakfast, even at the higher price.

When I called the Delta help desk, a robot voice told me there would be about a 30 minute wait. I gave up and checked in at Motel 6.

Although I was exhausted, I was so wired I couldn’t sleep well. Lots of tossing and turning. And fuzzy teeth.

In the morning, I had my choice of McDonalds, a waffle place, or a 24 hour diner. I opted for the diner and had a passable meal. Then it was off to the airport. SO many people, but security was efficient, friendly, helpful, and entertaining. I didn’t even have to go through the body scanner! 

In all, the highlight of the whole trip was the Atlanta security and the cheerful, funny security guard that waved people through the metal detector. Amazing.

In Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk, with family. 

One of the first things the kids asked was if I would make Mexican food, so it was off to Food Lion for tortillas, queso, chicken, chicken broth, beans, and lots of spices and salsa. Soon the enchiladas were in the oven. A little while after that, the dining area was filled with satisfied diners. Lots of leftover chicken, so tomorrow we’ll pick up some BBQ sauce and have pulled chicken!

I’m so glad I know how to make Mexican food – the real way. I don’t do it much anymore, partly because it’s a lot of work and partly because it’s a lot of calories. Not good for a woman trying to lose weight.

But we had our Mexican meal, and today I went out with my sister and one of my nieces, and where did we end up? Why, a Mexican restaurant, of course.

My sister and I decided to split a quesadilla. It was crab, queso, and pico de gallo (fresh, uncooked salsa). It was outrageously good, and I wondered why I’d never done it before. I will now, for sure.

This place even had real Mexican Coka Cola! Mexican Coke is still made with sugar, not corn syrup, so it tastes like the Coke I drank as a child. Except I drank Pepsi, my mother’s preference. 

Whichever it is you drank fifty years ago, the Mexican Coke tastes just like it. There is no sugar content difference between sugar and corn syrup, but my taste buds know the difference.

A few years ago I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I had no idea that cattle have been “reprogramed” to eat corn products. Cows are grass eaters. But feedlots here give the poor animals corn products. It’s cheap and keeps the corn farmers in business. People around this world are starving, but we turn corn into cattle feed so we here can have beef.

Pollan’s book is pretty amazing – and pretty scary. I highly recommend it.

Beef today doesn’t taste like the beef of our childhood. Sort of like Coke doesn’t. Both are now made with corn, and that alters the taste.

I rarely buy meat anymore. But when I do, I spend the money and buy the good stuff – range fed. There are a few cattlemen in Cochise County who still graze their cattle. It costs more because they actually have to keep their pasture free of mesquite, they have to plant grasses, they have to water the grasses, and they havemto either raise or buy alfalfa. But their cattle live well, and when they turn into steak, they taste great.

Here on the coast, though, it’s all about fish. Of course there are steak places, but mostly it’s fish and more fish. And I am not complaining!

In addition to fish, right now this area of the coast is all about smoke. Smoke from a few fires. Nearby, southeast of Nags Head, there is a fire in a bog. It’s burning five or six feet underground and there’s no way to put it out. It will burn and burn until here is a good rain, and the people here are hoping for rain just like Arizonans are.

The difference, of course, is that there will likely be a good rain here far before there’s one in Arizona.

North Carolina is in drought. People here are shocked and horrified that they actually have to put some water on their gardens. Fireworks shows are being cancelled, and fires on the beach aren’t allowed. 

But drought is so relative. Grass, unwatered, is still green. Rivers and creeks are running. The folks here have no idea what drought means in Arizona.

Our yards are parched and yellow. The San Pedro runs about a foot wide and less than a foot deep. Creeks don’t remember what water is. There hasn’t been a quarter inch of rain in our area since September. 

An update. There was a little rain last night. Mostly there was thunder, and wonderful lightning over the ocean. What a delight! And this morning, it is cool; the ground it wet. The weather report says humidity should hang out around 80% today. The weather report in my part of the world says the humidity has shot up now to about 35%. There are clouds! Could it be we will have rain soon?

I leave in a few hours for Raleigh and the airport.

Still haven’t see a dolphin.

To the Islands!

I took off from Belhaven and headed to the ferry at Swan Quarter. I had to wait about half an hour before boarding began.

The ferry ride to Ocracoke Island takes about two and a half hours.  It wasn’t long before all I could see in any direction was water. 

This was serious water. 

Long ago, when I was maybe  nine or ten, I was swimming in Lake Michigan and got caught in seaweed. Although I wasn’t caught for long, it was terrifying. I couldn’t get my head above water and I couldn’t get my feet on the lake’s floor. I thought I was going to die, there in the lake in about three feet of water.

I finally broke through that seaweed, but to this day I am uncomfortable in either a lake or an ocean. If I can’t clearly see through the water to my feet, I have a bit of a panic.

This discomfort has grown over the years, and now I don’t like to be on a boat. I don’t even like to fly over a large body of water. I’ve even thought that if I ever go to Europe I may have to travel to Alaska and get to Eureope through China in an attempt to cross as little water as possible.

In the last several years, I’ve gone out on boats a few times. I made it all the way to Catalina Island and back about ten years ago, but I had to be drugged (lightly). I’ve taken two boat trips to Alcatraz Island when I was in Bahia Kino. But this! I was so far out on the water I couldn’t see land in any direction.

It was not comfortable.

The first thing I did was check for lifeboats and lifejackets. Then I relaxed a bit. I roamed around on deck, eventually sitting on  one of the wooden benches. After awhile, my butt got sore so I sat in the car. The slight rocking motion of the ferry was relaxing, and I actually fell asleep!

Asleep. Me. On a body of water. A big body of water.

I feel this is a major breakthrough for water and me. I am still not sure I want to swim where I can’t see to my feet, but fly over the Atlantic? That’s a maybe!

Off to Belhaven

On to Belhaven

I began Saturday sleeping on a wooden bench in the Charlotte NC railroad station. Six hour layover. I did some good napping on the ride to Raleigh, I’ll say.

I love Raleigh! There is a free bus that makes a loop in the downtown area, and it shuttled me from the Amtrak station to the downtown transit center. There I caught a $2 bus for the twenty-five minute ride to the airport. I finally shuttled to Dollar and picked up my Ford Focus. Plain white. Gr-r-r.

Other than getting lost in the city for about half an hour, the trip was uneventful. Under three hours, and though the first part was interstate, the road became smaller as I moved east and eventually became two lanes.

It is so flat here! And covered with trees, tall ones. Makes it difficult to see anything. So different from home where I can see for twenty or thirty miles from almost everywhere. 

I think that’s part of why I like the ocean – the vista seems endless. I know that on a clear day in Kino I can see the spine of the mountain range that runs down through the Baja. That has to be sixty miles or more.

So, as beautiful as it is here, I doubt I could live here. Feels too closed in to me.

I reached Belharbor a little after four and got checked in at the B&B. Bizzie Lizzie’s. I liked Liz. Locally she’s known more for her plants. She has a thriving greenhouse and a gift shop. Her home sits on five lush acres, with the fenced back yard holding a few gardens and a few dozen chickens, ducks and geese.

All the female ducks but one have disappeared. They have gone into the woods to lay their eggs and never returned. Lots of hungry wildlife in these parts. So, the poor remaining female wanders the yard all day in an attempt to escape the males. A never ending duck parade. Liz is going to have to make a little fenced area for the female so she can get some rest!

The stay was lovely and affordable. I encourage everyone to take an extended trip to these parts – and to stay with Liz. She made me so at home and fed me so well! I do hope to come back for a longer visit.

There are numerous rivers in the area and many wildlife trails and observation points. Within thirty or so miles of Belharbor, there are a dozen wildlife preserves. Much, much to see and do.

One word of warning. If you want to spend the night at Liz’s B&B, have a meal before you arrive. She’s about nine miles from town and the nearest restaurants and grocery stores. I didn’t know that ahead of time and had to make the drive back for dinner.

Dinner was fabulous. I mean, how can you go wrong when it’s a little cafe you have to enter through a wine shop? The wine shop, Wine and Words, sucked me in. Wine and books! What a combo. And tucked inside this place is the Back Bay Cafe. 

I splurged (been doing WAY too much of that). Their dinner menu isn’t large, but there’s something for everyone. I had the surf and turf. Utter perfection. The steak was lightly seasoned, and I could cut it with my fork. It may have been the most tender piece of meat I’ve ever had.

The steak was accompanied by a nice sized fish filet, broiled, two ravioli stuffed with lobster, and a crab cake. Veggies on the side. The only thing that would have made it better was a salad to accompany the meal, but there was none.

The man operating the wine part of the place came over with a wine list and could have told me about each one in detail. He knew which wines would best accompany each menu item and he helped me choose well.

Totally stuffed and full, too, of great conversation, I returned to the B&B where Liz offered me some cheesecake. I couldn’t be rude now, could I?

After a great night’s sleep and some time wandering the greenhouse, I had breakfast of crepes with strawberries and a scrambled egg on the side.

Soon I was off to Swan Quarter NC to catch the ferry to Ocracoke Island, near the south end of the string of islands on the Outer Banks.

Atlanta

Atlanta

Sitting in the railroad station. The train is; I’m just on the train. I had wanted to dash in and try to connect to the Internet while we were stopped, but the conductress warned me that we’d be stopped only a few minutes. That was about twenty-five minutes ago. Guess I’ll arrive late to Charlotte.

Took a few minutes to call home, and the news is all bad.The Huachucas are burning down, and now a new fire has begun on the fort.

I cannot even begin to say how I feel. I wrote “Gutpunched” a few weeks ago when I saw the fire up in the Chiricahuas. Debbie had that gutpunch reaction when she saw it after arriving home from New Orleans. I can’t even begin to imagine what my reaction will be.

The Chiricahua fire was emotional, personal. And this one is so much more. It is twenty miles from my home. I know the roads, the canyons, the trails. I have spent time admiring the coatamundi. I’ve stolen a piñon pine.

I look out at these mountains each morning and each evening. When I’m fortunate enough to be home during the day, I gaze at them off and on. I sit on my patio in the evening with a glass of wine, watching the sun set over these mountains. And now they are burning up.

Friends of mine live- make that lived – in these mountains. They have lost their homes. At this time, over twelve thousand people have been evacuated. Twelve thousand! That’s over fifteen percent of the area. 

The fire has jumped fire lines and highways. It will not be tamed. If all goes completely terribly, it could roar through Rio Vista and burn up our uninsured house. It could then scream over the mountain and take out Old Bisbee.

This is not likely. But it strikes fear into my heart. 

I remember the fire in Old Biz a few years ago. How the fire started on one side of the mountain, crossed over the top, and tried to head back over again. It was terrifying, and in comparison to the inferno in the Huachucas, it was nothing. 

I want to be home. I do Reiki. I want to learn CPR and some basic first aid. I do this because I want to help when there is an emergency situation. 

And now there is an emergency situation. It is almost on my doorstep and I am not there. I am on the east coast. On a pleaure excursion. While Cochise County burns down.

The question now becomes this: When I reach Raleigh, do I go on with my plans, or do I go home? At this point I am split. What good can I possibly do? Likely, not much. I could Reiki like crazy, but I can do that from here. I could do some flyovers with Steve and take photos and do some writing. So what. I could maybe help people move their stuff out, but I am not sure I’m really needed for that. 

But if I stay here, I will feel so helpless. So. Very. Helpless. Would it feel better for me to feel helpless at home?

Amtrak – a mixed review

I LOVE trains! That mournful whistle. And the way you can peek out the window when rounding a curve and see the engine. Gliding over a lake or river and being able to look straight down into the water

I love the scenery, the mystery, the adventure. When I drive, my eyes are on the road so I miss most of the scenery. And not much mystery, other than that of my bladder making it to the next rest stop. Adventure? Sometimes. I’ve found unexpected little towns and diners, met interesting people.And there’s always the dubious adventure of roadside coffee.

But the train! 

Scenery:  When we left New Orleans we crossed Lake Ponchatrain and I enjoyed the waves and birds and could see clouds actually forming as I watched. The lake is large enough, I’m sure, to create its own weather. Then on through rural Louisiana and Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, skimming past small towns, dirt road crossings, and seemingly endless stretches of trackside forest.

Mystery: Will the train depart on time? (it did) Will it arrive on time? (it did) Will I be able to sleep? (not much) Will there be an upper level with an observation car? (yes from Benson to New Orleans, but not from New Orleans to Charlotte) And the biggest mystery, will I end up with a seat mate, and if so, will I be able to tolerate him or her? (turned out to be quite a good match – hi Ben!)

Adventure: Standing in the wrong line for 20 minutes because the man announcing departure had such a heavy accent and mumbled so terribly that I couldn’t understand a word.  A man across from me dropping his drawers to tuck in his shirt. A woman in front of me incessantly yapping on her cell phone. A child’s blaring video. Seat hopping to escape the noise and dubious views.

Amtrak is overly air conditioned. Debbie and I found that out the hard way. In a vain attempt to sleep those two nights on the way to New Orleans, we heaped clothing on top of ourselves. On the day we took the trolley rides, we made time to search for and buy some blankets – no easy chore in a city beset with record breaking heat. However, we persevered and found some soft fuzzy blankets. I had to pull mine out shortly after I boarded for Charlotte.

In early afternoon we passed through Tuscaloosa. Outside the window was the twisted remains of the April 27 tornado. Debris ran for miles. The remains of houses and businesses were still strewn across empty lots. Trees were twisted on their trunks or ripped in half. Cleanup crews were still out in force. My stomach twisted like one of the trees.

Kudzu is taking over the south. Originally from Japan, it was brought to the US for erosion control. Now it climbs up tree trunks and hangs from the branches. Entire hillsides are a beautiful carpet of kudzu vine. It strangles the life out of everything it covers.

Supposedly, kudzu is edible for humans when it’s young. Kudzu can be used as forage for livestock, and the bonus is that if it’s eaten for four to five years, the plant will eventually be killed. 

Also, kudzu contains isoflavones, one of which is daidzein, and daidzein is a cancer preventive. It can also help with hypertension and diabetes II.

It can be used in soaps and lotions and can even be made into a tea. Its fiber is durable and can be used for rope or clothing.

All I can say is Southerners had better get busy using it, or kudzu will be the only thing left growing south of the Mason Dixon line.

Mississippi

The cab dropped Debbie at Amtrak and me at Enterprise. I took my little red Hyundai and headed east. In a few short hours I was in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I drove straight down Washington Street, parked, and dashed across the sand to put my feet in the Gulf.

Three weeks ago I’d had my feet in the cool, stingray-filled waters at Bahia Kino, and today I stood in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I love them both.

When I could pull myself out of the water, I called my friend and asked instructions to his house. Easy. All I had to do was take the main road east out of downtown and turn right after crossing the second bayou.

I love instructions like that! Cross the second bayou and turn right. I repeated that little mantra to myself as I drove the eight or ten minutes out of town.

I kept my eyes peeled for a decent gas station. The first one I saw was Exxon (as in Valdiz), and the second one was a BP station. The BP station was packed. I was irate. Have people no memories? It was just a year ago that the death of the Gulf was weighing heavily on every mind. 

I crossed that second bayou and hung a right. My friend and I took a little outing so I could see his boat, the one he calls his project boat. This is the one he picked up for a few hundred dollars, and it needs lots of “beautification.”

Then we stopped by the marinas in both Biloxi and Ocean Springs trying to find some fresh shrimp for dinner but ended up having to buy some from a vendor along side the highway. Six dollars for two pounds of fresh shrimp, heads intact. Better prices than Kino.

We boiled it all up, made some cole slaw, sliced up some fresh tomatoes and broiled some fresh trout. I gorged.

After dinner we rowed out on the bayou and watched the golden full moon rise over the pines. 

Sudden splashing. Small fish glowing silver in the moonlight lept from the water, dozens and dozens at once. Then the real shocker: they weren’t fish; they were shrimp!

When I shined a light on the water the jumping frenzy increased. Turned the light off and it subsided. My friend said that in his years on the bayou he’d never seen anything like it.

Was it the golden moon? Was it the lunar eclipse not visible in North America but that maybe shrimp could feel? Was it the low tide? Or had the shrimp merely gone mad?

A small stretch of woods sits just east of Ocean Springs. It’s a designated wildlife preserve, and amazingly, the wildlife being preserved is the sandhilll crane. There are around one hundred nesting pairs of the birds, and they live there year round. Why is it the cranes in the Sulfur Springs Valley are only wintertime visitors? Our cranes head northwest as far as Russia for the summer. But the cranes in Ocean Springs are permanent residents.

Then again, the cranes in Mississippi number only a few hundred, and the Valley wouldn’t likely be able to support a year round flock of 30,000 cranes.

A short visit to Mississippi and a chance to get updated on each other’s lives, then back to New Orleans with the rental car.

Last thing as I headed west out of Biloxi, I ran across the sand to put my feet in the Gulf’s waters.