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.

Tuesday in New Orleans

Up early, as usual. Off to find a highly recommended restaurant. I wanted Cajun! But it was never to be. We were sidetracked by a wonderful little patio place on Bourbon Street.

Bourbon Street, the street of legend, was a disappointment. Strip clubs. Music that spills onto more than the sidewalk.Bourbon Street music is SO loud you can hear it a block away. And you can hear music from six or seven clubs at the same time. It’s deafening and it’s miserable. We avoided it at all costs.

But on Tuesday morning we figured it was safe to walk Bourbon Street at 7. And it was. 

It was right on Bourbon Street that we found the patio restaurant. We dove into a crawfish omelette, frozen cafe au lait, and, of course, beignet. 

We spent much of the rest of the day playing tourist, riding the trolley cars from one end of the city to the other. 

The best ride is the one that goes down St. Charles, through the Garden District. Trees and power lines are draped with a rainbow of cheap beaded Mardi Gras necklaces since St. Charles is one of the parades routes.

St. Charles is a mixture of residential areas with a few small shopping centers and a sprinkling of restaurants. None of the restaurants I noticed were chains, which gave this part of the city an A+ rating from me. Actually, the French Quarter, downtown, and the Garden District were all filled with non-chain restaurants. This is one of the things that makes New Orleans a wonderful place to visit. 

Wonderful too because of names like Thank You God Cab Service. And wonderful because of the way the people talk. When asked how locals survive the heat/humidity combination, a woman explained, “We are tropical hothouse flowers, I’ll have you know.”

We ended the day dining on a balcony that almost, almost, gave a view of the river. Stuffed crab and jumbolaya on pasta. To die for. It was hot on that balcony but worth the sweat since it was our only balcony dining experience.

My sense, in these few days, is that New Orleans is making a comeback. First Katrina, and then last year the BP disaster. When I was here last year two short months after the BP rig blew up, the city was tense. Faces were grim.

Everywhere I went there were camera crews. The national crews had big name newscasters and full eight-to-ten man crews.  Scouts were dashing about setting appointments to talk with the mayor, the chief of disaster operations, etc. They  had caravans of big trucks and vans topped with satellite dishes to enable them to send the news “Live, from New Orleans.”

The small local crews operated closer to shoestring budgets. A crew of two or three, sometimes just one, and no satellite dishes. These newscasters didn’t lounge in a chair chatting with passersby, like me. They were out gathering all the news themselves. In contrast to the relaxed manner of the national bigwigs, these men were drawn, strained, and one was even crying as he gazed out over the Gulf.

The entire Gulf Coast was littered with newsmen last year. And yes, they were all men.

But New Orleans is coming back. This year the faces are full of smiles. The people are, overall, friendly. Greetings are warm and from the heart. Everyone is willing to tell us about a great restaurant, festival, or special event. Some are willing to do a traveller a special favor, like the bartender across from our hotel who shared the bar’s internet password so I could get online.

In some areas torn apart by Katrina, there are new homes, repaired homes, and newly planted tall trees. Fresh coats of paint and new gardens. CDs raising funds for victims are still for sale in bars and cafés.

New Orleans is a survivor. 

Monday in the Crescent City

Our first full day in the Big Easy!

We were up early and couldn’t wait to get down to Café du Monde. A brisk seven block walk and there we were,settled at table, almost drooling, awaiting our beignet and Café au lait. We savored every drop and bite, leaving with only a small amount of powered sugar decorating our clothes.

Then it was time to walk it off. We cover four or five miles in all, I think. Lots of sweet little neighborhoods with houses painted three to five colors each. Two story fancy houses next door to worn shotguns. Houses splashed with red or orange or purple. New Orlinians know how to use color!

Sidewalks were mainly the cement variety, but some had been bricked and others had tile that spilled off a porch and down the stairs to the street. Lots of holes, missing tiles and overgrown planter boxes made waking a bit of a challenge, and I know I missed some sights because my attention was so focused on where I was putting my feet.

Back to the hotel to relax a bit and cool off. Then, after the morning’s heat, we opted to switch our plans. No pricey bus tour. Instead, we’d do the riverboat tour with lunch. I was dreaming of cool breezes off the river. 

A woman played the calliope on the paddleboat as we waited to board. Thankfully, it went quiet and the music switched to recorded New Orleans jazz as we climbed aboard.

We scored a little table at the boat’s railing and settled in. The heat was stifling until we started to moved, and then that hoped-for river breeze cooled us down.

We left the Port of New Orleans, the world’s largest port, in mid-afternoon. The river is 214 feet deep there, its deepest point. The Natchez can hold around 1600 people, but it seemed we had less than a quarter of that. We took off down river and the tour announcements began.

We passed a Domino sugar processing plant and an oil refinery. When the paddleboat took us past the 9th Ward, all those Katrina memories came back. Soon, on the opposite side of the river, we passed Algiers which holds a Navy base. Navy? Boats galore? WHY didn’t those boats cross the river and rescue or evacuate the people of the 9th Ward? I was angered to my toes.

The levee along the Mississippi is 25 feet high. The water is so high right now that we could see only the top eight feet or so. Willow trees along the riverbank were nearly under water. The treetops stood out, branches floating on the river. Had the levee been breached during this flood,much of New Orleans would have been submerged as it’s just a few feet above sea level.

Ships and barges from around the world drifted by. Country flags I didn’t recognize. Towboats poised to tow, tugboats poised to push. A ship from Nassau glided by and we were told it carried 70,000 tons of grain.

We had our lunch on deck. Lunch was included (senior prices!). As the Natchez turned around to carry us back, I moaned, “No, no! All the way to the Gulf! ” But alas, it took us back to port.

A leisurely stroll back to the St. Peter House, a short rest in the air conditioned suite, then across the street to the 700 Club for a gin and tonic. Debbie had her tonic with vodka.

A perfect day.

On to New Orleans

Late afternoon. Across the Texas plains with an orange sun burning the western sky.  A few hours later we were in San Antonio with a two-hour layover. Off to the Riverwalk!

A nice twenty minutes stroll and we were on the river. We had a light supper of shrimp appetizers, gazed at the river, and wandered back. Time to settle in for the night.

I actually slept but awoke around four, in knots, so grabbed my pillows and cover and headed to the observation car where I snagged a pair of seats and was able to stretch out a bit. The floor was littered with large men who just didn’t fit into the seats. They had pillows wedged under their heads and were sleeping as well as the floor would allow. It was a good time to be small enough to fit into two cushioned seats.

I awoke at dawn and Debbie wandered in. A brilliant red sun hung over the swamps and cypress, their broad skirted roots under the water. I searched for alligators but found none. Soon a man’s voice down the way cut through the morning stillness, waking the last sleepers: “Someone, tell me we’re out of Texas. Please!”

But we we still west of Beaumont. Swamps rolled past. Egrets lounged on tree stumps. The blue sky began to cloud.

Breakfast on the train. Finally we were out of Texas and into Louisiana! Flat. Green. Treed. So different from the sparsely vegetated red clay of home. We settled in for the last stretch of the journey.

Skies became more gray and a little rain pattered the train. Amazingly, we arrived about an hour and a half early!  A cab whisked us to our hotel (St. Peter House, on the edge of the French Quarter) and we were so early our room wasn’t ready. 

They let us stash our bags and we moseyed on into the Quarter where we browsed the outdoor market and witnessed a wedding party being carried off in carriages. We even found a gallon of water to replenish our empty bottles. What we didn’t find was the restaurant our cabbie had recommended nor the food festival our innkeeper had told us about. We returned to our clean and ready room hungry and miserably hot. An air conditioned bus tour may be on tomorrow afternoon’s agenda.

Train Trip, Day One

The Benson train station is a three-sided tin shack about ten feet wide. Debbie and I stood there in the 2 am chill waiting for the Sunset Limited. It wasn’t the “City of New Orleans,” but that’s where it would take us. Suddenly, that lonely wail announcing a train. A light flooding the tracks. 

Two conductors helped us board, chatted for a few minutes, and showed us to a seat. Although I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. I dozed fitfully until about 5 am and gave up.

Train! Smooth. Quiet. Far roomier than a plane. And I didn’t even have to ask for a pillow. I was given two – and needed them both. They were pancake thin, so I had to wad both of them up under my head for it to feel pillow-like.

Dawn. The desert stretched out ahead and a red-orange sky lay over the horizon. It was gorgeous, but that beautiful color was there because the sky was so smoke-filled. It’s perhaps the only benefit to the Wallow Fire up around Greer and Springerville. It roars through the White Mountains while the Horseshoe 2 continues to devour the Chiricahuuas.

As we’d  driven to Benson at 1am we’d been treated to an unusually beautiful night sky. A three quarter moon had hung low over the Huachucas. It was a rich, deep golden orange. Beautiful. Beautiful because of the smoke from the fire in Sonora.

Morning. We crossed the Rio Bravo and then stopped in El Paso where we stopped long enough to disembark and walk around a bit. Just after noon we stopped briefly in Alpine. Strange name, it seemed to me, for a town in the low Texas desert. It was hot and it was humid. As I stepped off the train, the conductor warned us not to stray because the stop would be brief. The woman across the aisle got off for a quick smoke and told me that on one of her trips a man walked a block to get a pack of cigarettes, and the train had pulled out without him.

On to the east. Big Bend country. This low desert reminded me of Cochise County: desert broom, prickly pear, yucca. Way too much mesquite. This part of Texas clearly didn’t get the severe freeze we did last winter. Prickly pear abounded though they were parched and wrinkled, begging for seasonal rains. We paralleled a two lane blacktop for miles and miles without seeing one car.

Past Langtry, home of Judge Roy Bean, and then over the Pecos River. The bridge over the Pecos is the highest railroad bridge  in the US. It’s 353 feet from the bridge to the river. Half an hour later we reached the area where the Pecos River and Rio Bravo merge and form Lake Amistad which separate Texas from Coahuila.

Immediately after the lake, the vegetation changed. the grass was actually green and we saw Lob lolly pine and a variety of deciduous trees. Finally, we stopped in Del Rio. In addition to a major Air Force base, Del Rio is now home to many seniors who live there for its proximity to low cost Mexican medicine. There are three large border crossings in and around the city.

The stop in Del Rio was billed as a “smoke stop.” However, it was far more than that. I got off the train to walk and immediately encountered three border patrol agents, one of whom had a dog. He and the dog boarded each car, the dog sniffing all the luggage. It was a drug search stop. The passengers’ permission was neither asked nor granted.

The agents went away empty handed.

Gutpunched

It was like a fierce punch in the stomach. Only worse.
I hadn’t driven the road to Douglas in over three weeks, so I wasn’t expecting it. But today, I headed toward the College, and when I came out of the mountains, my eyes cut to the northeast, and there it was: the fire.
I know a fire has been raging in the Chiricahuas for about five weeks now. I see the pictures on the nightly news. Still, I was unprepared.
So it punched me, hard.
I screamed when I saw it. I screamed so much I had to pull over, and then I moaned. I moaned like a woman who had just found her child dead in the streets. I screamed and moaned until I had almost no voice left and my throat was raw.
Then I sat. Breathing, breathing. Eventually I could go on.
It’s a terrible thing to see a place you love dearly in the midst of disaster. My thought flew to people in the Midwest who have been watching their towns destroyed by tornadoes. In some way, I knew exactly how they felt.
No, the Chiricahuas aren’t my home. But I have been going to those mountains for nearly forty years. I have been in many of her canyons, wandered her streams, slept snugly in her valleys and hills. I’ve seen the trogon, the gray fox, and the coatimundi. I’ve picnicked, swum, hiked. I’ve taken students and visitors to see her beauty. I’ve lunched in the café in Portal and spent time in Paradise.
And now those places are burning up.
Firefighters have been there since shortly after the fire’s inception. It is human caused, though how it actually began is unknown. A cigarette tossed from a car window? A hot muffler on brittle, dry grass? Arson? Any of these could be the reason. Many locals, however, blame migrants for leaving a campfire when they fled the Border Patrol. This rumor remains, and it grows.
One resident is even quoted as saying, “To say that illegal aliens didn’t set the fire is like saying that Neil Armstrong didn’t walk on the moon.”
Set the fire. Not even started the fire. This man explained that in order to escape the Border Patrol, a group of migrants started the fire to distract their pursuers so they could run away. No matter there is no record of a chase, and no matter the Border Patrol didn’t report the fire.
All other recent fires  in Southern Arizona (seven major ones burning right now) have been started by US citizens. One was started by someone  out target shooting and another by US military training exercises. A third was started by a man who was welding.
At this point I am less concerned about how the fire started than I am how it will be put out. What matters is a place I love is being destroyed, more and more acres every day, every minute in fact. Over 80,000 acres have burned, and it’s only a few miles from the sweet community of Paradise. Residents have just been ordered evacuated.
Like the residents of Portal and Paradise, I could not bear it if these towns are destroyed.

Barefoot Beachwalk

I just returned from a walk on the beach, barefoot. I tossed on my one-dollar Thriftstore Beach Dress, slipped on my flip flops, and hit the sand. Pulled off the flip flops. Walked right at the shoreline so the incoming tide would wash over my feet. Delicious.

I decided to go barefoot partly because the sand feels so great. Also, I sink further into the sand when I’m barefoot, so I have to push a little harder when I walk, and I figure that will help tone my calves. And walking in the sand helps to slough off dead skin and calluses from my feet.

Power walking the beach is a lot harder when you’re barefoot because you really have to watch where you’re going. It’s no fun at all to land on a beached sea slug or jellyfish, and it’s also no fun to land on some kind of spikey shell. So I spent a lot of time gazing at the ground.

Because I was so focused on each step, I noticed much more beach flotsam than I usually do. First, of course, were all the shells. Shells and pieces of shell litter the beaches in Kino. There was also quite a bit of glass and I scored three pieces – green, clear, and blue.

The sound of the shells was beautiful. Tide was low, and the water slid gently onto the beach and back. With the water’s movement, small shells came and went, clinkking against other shells, tinkling like a fairy’s wind chime.

Of course there were a few slugs, and I was so glad I didn’t step on them! And dead fish, or to be more accurate, their spines and heads. Every dead fish that littered the beach had been picked clean by gulls and vultures. There is a mysterious beauty in the remains of a fish, so I stopped to photograph several, looking for the right angle, wishing the light were a little better.

One stretch of beach was littered with what seemed to be shredded plastic. It looked like plastic and it felt like plastic, but it looked as though it had been put through a paper shredder. Sometimes there were single strands, just a few inches long, but mostly there were large wads, the strands all wrapped up in one another with a little seaweed thrown in for color.

And the seaweed, of course. Some brown, some green, all fun to poke in just to see if there’s a hidden clam.

Then I hit the party area. Empty Coke bottles. Halves of limes squeezed dry. A few straws and plastic cups. From the looks of it, the party had been small, maybe an intimate rendezvous, two lovers with a bottle of rum and a few Cokes.

But there was one unusual thing. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was. And of course, when I did find out, I felt about as intelligent as a flat tire.

I found several of these: a wooden stick maybe eight inches long, and on one end of it was something the shape of a three-inch-long clam shell. The shelled part was fuzzy. Each one looked like it could be a tom tom of a drum set, but the things were too heavy and the stick was too short. I picked one up.

I wandered back from the beach to find two men heavily into their evening happy hour and kvetching session. The night’s topic was the pinche medical establishment (last night it was the pinche environmentalists). One was complaining about how those irrational dermatologists want us to protect ourselves from the sun. I wandered into the foray and plopped myself down on an empty chair.

“Either of you know what this is?”

“Don’t want to burst your bubble, Emilie, but it’s a snack. Actually, the remains of a snack. They sell them on the pier – mangoes on a stick.”

A “duh!” moment. Of course. The clamshell appearance was the mango pit. On a stick.

I sat a few moments more, until the conversation drifted back to the pinche medical establishment, then took my leave.

The mango-pit-on-a-stick is planted in my garden. Think it will transform itself into a mango tree?