STALKING THE WILD MAD STONE: GUMBO-LIMBO, HIGHWALKERS AND THE WAY IT IS….in a series of KeyNotes

Bobby Flay Was Here.

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It’s B.O.’s Fish Wagon, a hoppin’ open air shack.  I’m not sure how the ‘building’ stays together. (Think Sanford and Sons.) Owner Buddy Owen built the shack around his old fish wagon. It’s cash only and way off the beaten path in Key West.

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I left my business card on the pole along with hundreds of others, competing for space with buoys and license plates. Order any catch of the day ~  blackened, grilled or fried ~ on fresh Cuban bread with Key Lime sauce. Guaranteed to make you smile out loud.

There’s plenty to smile about in the Conch Republic.  Like the chickens.  Key West is a live-and-let-live town.  And the chickens like it that way.  They strut the streets, loll in yards and hang out at bars.  They have their own Chicken Store on Duval Street. No broiling, frying or grilling here. It houses a volunteer group, the Rooster Rescue Team, that helps sick and/or bothersome birds.

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And then there’s the polydactyls.  The cats, most having six toes, are descended from the original cat given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain.  At the Hemingway Homestead and Museum, there are cats in every room, above ground and below.

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The island cats, like the chickens, have Friends. The Friends of Animals Chapter offers food, affection and a Spay-a-Stray program.

This is Charlie Chaplin ~tiny black mustache, quiet nature.  One of the most photographed felines on the property.

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The building where Papa wrote was originally a carriage house. A stairway from the patio takes you to the second floor writing studio. His Royal typewriter, Cuban cigar-maker’s chair, and the mementoes he collected are still in place.  It was here that he worked on Death in the AfternoonGreen Hills of Africa,To Have And Have NotFor Whom The Bell Tolls, and many of his most-famous short stories, such as “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

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Hemingway’s grave is a simple affair but you won’t find it in the Key West Cemetery. What you will find is Bahamian mariners, Cuban cigar makers, Spanish-American War veterans, millionaires and paupers, Catholics, Protestants and Jews~ side-by-side, a reflection of the island city’s diverse heritage. It’s part of the Rural Cemetery Movement when cities began to build park-like cemeteries with landscaped grounds. There are monuments as well as small markers made of tile, brick and cement.  B. P. “Pearl” Roberts was a local hypochondriac who, you might say, had the Last Word.

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The Southernmost Point of the Keys has its own monument. A large concrete buoy that attracts huge crowds at sunrise…..

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….and sunset.  So here we are, at Mile Marker 0, the end of US 1.  I found my way here here due to a whipsmart travel agent named Jeanne. And carried home pieces of Paradise because of Jim, my tera-awesome photographer and handholder.

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See you at sunset.

Sunset Celebration

And that’s the way it is.  Thanks for  reading.

Toni  2/28/11

Books and Babies and Kids and Their Grown-ups

Come Along, Daisy!

Chloe and Papi have long been fans of Come Along, Daisy! So when we discovered that Chloe’s Mama had found a copy of Daisy and the Egg, Papi was happy to read it. A lot. This is one sweet book. Daisy is an endearing duck. Aunt Buttercup is sitting on an egg for Daisy’s mom. But the mom’s egg doesn’t hatch at the same time as the Aunt’s. “Some eggs just don’t hatch,” said Mama Duck. “Come and play with your cousins, Daisy.” But Daisy stays and keeps the egg warm. It’s dark, she’s cold. And then Pip! Pip! Pip! Little Pip, the brother, comes out. If you think high drama can’t be contained in a book labeled baby to preschool, think again.

(We discovered at the library that there is a Daisy’s Hide and Seek: A Lift the Flap Book too, all by Jane Simmons.)

 

Papi and Luke are reading Sheep Out to Eat by Nancy Shaw. See this earlier entry for more about the series. Yum. (Sheep in a Jeep and Families: What They Have in Common February 24, 2011 by Words We Women Write)  This Sheep series is a good example of how just the sight of the book lying half-covered under the blocks will pull the toddler over and cause him to yank it out. Luke liked to look through it and then carry it to a big person. He’d pull himself up on the couch and wiggle under the armpit of the reader. He sort of jiggled with anticipation. A winner–both Luke and the books!

Nani reads The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell to Lydia.

A lonely hunter hears the beautiful song of a mermaid. They come to love each other and she moves in to his rustic cabin that lies on both the edge of the forest and the sea. They revel in each other’s differences. Gradually the family grows: first a lynx, then a bear, and finally a little boy. What is ordinary for one member of this family becomes a source of delight and awe to another. The more they share their memories and manners, the more they are bound together with the bonds of love. This seems to be the wonder of it all, doesn’t it? Once we come to tell each other our stories, once we find someone to listen, we find more and more to love in that other person. Hurrah for stories!  As the end of the book came nearer and nearer, Lydia told me to read slower and slower. It finally ended.  I promised to read it again. She sighed and said, So, that’s good,Nani. (Randall Jarrell is a poet, and this book is a joy to read aloud. The words roll and lilt and curve and caress, and left me, the reader, with a sense of complete satisfaction, like a gourmet meal.)

 

Even when he wasn’t a one-year old, Luke would crawl, if not across the world, at least under the table for One, Two, Three by Sandra Boynton.  I love reading it aloud especially lines like this one: “ten makes a celebration LOUD, LOUD, LOUD…and one is wonderful after a crowd.”  He and I–and zillions of other folk–adore this author. She’s just plain entertaining. Even for kids. Authors for children’s books are very canny to make the reading fun for the adults. We know our kids need to have heard something like 5000 books before they go to school (I don’t know if it’s really 5000, but it’s a huge number and starting in utero gives you a good headstart.) So making the book enjoyable to the reader as well as the listener is vital if this is going to happen. Right on, Boynton.

I have fun at her website. http://www.sandraboynton.com/sboynton/boyntonbooks.html

Here’s one of her web asides: “In the time it would take you to read War and Peace, you could read every book Sandra Boynton has written, and still have time left over to, oh, learn Italian or something. Plus her drawings are generally cuter than Tolstoy’s.”

 

Papi started reading Teddy Robinson to both Lydia and Chloe. This book contains the everyday adventures of 6-year old Deborah and her teddy bear,Teddy Robinson. They have intricate little situations arise around the house or with friends. This book was made to be read aloud. The words flow gracefully;  the stories are just the right combination of fantasy and innocence. Not soppy. Everyone is respectful of each other and full of humor. Generous of spirit and endearing. Jack did most of the reading, but I found myself hanging around just within earshot so as not to miss the next exciting episode. This is an oldie but goodie. I want to stress this because I think we do our kids a misservice when all their read alouds are short chapter books. These chapters are long, Winnie the Pooh long, Wind in the Willows long, Thornton W. Burgess long. And long is good. This is how we stretch attention spans. This is how we get that mind’s eye working. The author does not write down to her audience. So, settle in, all you 3 to 88 year-olds–not that I’m 88 I hasten to add.  Savor the complex, compound sentences, the metaphors, the tiny bits of exposition, and just plain good stories. This is a little note by the publisher: “Joan Robinson was trained as an illustrator and began writing her own stories in 1939. Her many books for children include the Mary-Mary series, and, for older children, classic novels such as When Marnie Was There and Charley. Working closely with her husband, Joan Robinson published over thirty books before her death in 1988. Her most enduringly popular character, Teddy Robinson, first appeared in print in 1953. ‘His adventures might happen to anyone’s teddy bear,’ said his creator ‘but his way of looking at them is his own.’ This collection of stories has been selected by the author’s daughter, the original Deborah, and proud owner of the real Teddy Robinson.”

 

Rob reads The Poky Little Puppy to William.

William identifies with The Poky Little Puppy; we’re not sure why and we don’t know what he laughs at, but every time he sat in a lap to have it read, he chortled. Yes, a real chortle.  A three-month old chortling. Amazing. This book was one of the original 12 Little Golden Books. One of my play group mothers once told me she read it to her children because they were poky. Don’t bother. That’s not the charm of this book. This is the story of a curious little puppy. It’s been around for 50 years, and is still a fun read. Look at the smile on this kid’s face.

 

Rob reads William I Kissed the Baby. This is a book that captures the over the top joy of anyone associated with a new baby. The adult reader identifies with the enthusiasm of the animals. The fish asks, “I saw the baby! Did you see the baby?”  It’s a statement-question-answer format that allows the reader to use lots of expression. The chicken fed the baby, the butterfly sang to the baby, the ant tickled the baby.   Finally the duck is asked a question about the baby. She answers,”Of course I kissed the baby, my own amazing baby.” And then we see the new arrival. There’s color only on the edges of shiny black and white until this new baby shows up and then it’s YELLOW and the text shifts to HOT PINK.  I watched William and Luke while Rob and John read this book to them.  It seemed perfectly suited to their little eyes and ears. I admit to feeling that I may be reading too much into it, but it thrums with love and sweetness. One reviewer even allowed that it was pithy. Hmmmm. Pithy? Even I will have to chew on that.

 

PostScript:

Chloe wandered off after a while during Papi’s multi-day reading of Teddy Robinson, but it’s going to be on Lydia and Papi’s list of favorites. We’ll read it again for Chloe next year. I’m sure Lydia will want to listen again. It’ll be like meeting an old friend, and when do you ever turn away when you see an old friend coming down the street?

Patty 3/1/11

STALKING THE WILD MAD STONE : GUMBO-LIMBO, HIGH WALKERS AND THE WAY IT IS..in a series of KeyNotes

KeyNote #3

Here’s the welcoming committee at Everglades National Park…..

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Turkey Vulture at Everglades National Park, Florida, USA

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…and one of the many signs at the park entrance and the head of the Anhinga Trail.

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Vulture warning sign in the Marina Store window at Flamingo in Everglades National Park. © 2010 George Leposky

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Rangers at Florida’s Everglades National Park say vultures like to rip rubber from cars. They nibble on windshield wipers, munch on door and sunroof seals. Any parts made from rubber and vinyl are on the menu of these hungry prehistoric birds.  ( I suggest you park that rental car in a sunny location, not under a tree.) Nature’s cleanup crew is known for its appetite and has always been appreciated on Florida’s roads, pastures and parks. Until now.  How to put the fear of Man into these pranksters?

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“Hmmm? Are tires good to eat, too?” © 2010 George Leposky

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Wildlife biologists have tried yelling at them, using blasts from fire hoses, running noisy leaf blowers, attaching flapping plastic bags to cars and dangling dead vultures upside down.

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Following a suggestion by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the city of Greeneville obtained a permit to shoot and hang a limited number of vultures.

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Sometimes, they even bring out the cannon.  It’s powered by propane, easily carried by one person and plenty loud.  But no cannonballs.  At least, not yet.

No one really knows why the vultures have a yen for car rubber.  One theory is that the birds are using down time to sample available fare. Car snacking tends to occur in the morning when the birds are hanging out together, waiting to warm up and take to the air.  A vulture expert suggests that it’s like they are ‘trying stuff’ and the bad behavior may be more common among younger birds. Who knows, maybe they’re just a gang of bored juveniles.  Although it has an ugly bare-skinned face ~ all the better to plunge into the most revolting of cuisines ~  a vulture is graceful on the wing as it forages for carrion.

The park is home to hundreds of them who ham it up for tourists.

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The Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm does not disappoint. Gators lurk under anhinga nests. Newborn chicks, some newly-feathered, teeter a few feet above gators.  You can almost hear Mama saying, Don’t get so close to the edge. Yo! Babies!Are you listening to me?

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When a gator ‘stands tall’, locals call it a highwalker. On land, it moves very quickly and can run 9-10 mph for short distances. Alligators are known to do astonishing things. They swim miles looking for mates, crawl over land to find new girlfriends and scrap with other leathery Casanovas that happen along. In the spring, feisty alligators, usually males, roar like thunder.

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Click here to Watch video of the gator symphony

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The Anhinga Trail lets you see the flora and fauna up close.

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A Purple Gallanule walks on top of water lilies in the canals, clambers through dense shrubs and clings to stems and blades of grass. Its extremely long toes help it walk on lily pads without sinking.

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A Wood Stork, on the Endangered Species list, feeds by touch in shallow muddy water.

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The Gumbo-Limbo Trail loops through a jungle-like tropical hardwood hammock. The Gumbo-Limbo, Bursera simaruba, is a tropical tree native to Florida, a hurricane-resistant species that adapts to a variety of habitats. These trees provide wind protection for crops and roads as living fence posts. If you stick a branch into good soil, it will root and grow into a sizeable tree in a few years.  Most carousel horse makers use its wood. But the locals have another name for the tree –

they call it the Tourist Tree because the bark is red and peeling, like the skin of a sunburnt you-know-who.

(This tourist uses BullFrog SPF 50 SuperBlock Lotion with Titanium Dioxide, UVA/UVB Protection.  It’s waterproof and sweatproof.  And it’s PABA free.  There’s even BullFrog Mosquito Coast DEET-free sunblock that repels insects. Gel, lotion, spray or stick – I don’t leave home without it.)

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See you next time, at the end of the road ~ the southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states.

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Toni  2/26

Sweet Potatoes, Forbidden Books, and Secrets: A Story

(What follows is a conversation that Could Have Happened if I were able to combine a few of the dear families I’m part of. But, suffice it to say, in answer to that dreary question, “Did this happen?”: It didn’t happen, but it’s all true.)

But Mama, Why. Can’t. I. Read. It? Boy, these are the longest, twistiest sweet potatoes I’ve ever seen.  Will this knife work on ‘em?

It’s not on the mandatory list is it? At school? Why should you read it now? Use your thumb like this when you pare. No bleeding!

But everyone is reading it. I’m the only one in the class who hasn’t. Do I do half inch slices?

Half inch. Everyone…schmevreone! I’ll spread the slices in the pan. Here, peel these garlic cloves.

Chunk chop too, right? Do you want me to sprinkle the chunks on the potatoes? But what’s the harm? It’s only a book. What do I do with this olive oil?

Pour two tablespoons of oil over the garlic; then stir. Have I ever told you about your Zeyde Chaim and the suitcases?

Grandpa Henry? No. There. I’m done mixing the oil and garlic. Now put ‘em on the potatoes? What’s Zeyde Chaim have to do with the book?

Drizzle! Drizzle the garlic and oil over the sweet potatoes. Mix it up. Make sure you coat each slice. We were on the train, going to the Bronx to visit the cousins. I had been badgering my Tate, Zeyde Chaim to you, to tell me about Uncle Izzy’s “secret” that I’d heard Aunt Tillie and Aunt Rachel talking about.

Uh oh. This spoon is no darn good! It’s flipping the potatoes out. So what was the secret?

You’re the flipper! And you’ve spattered garlic and oil all over this blouse! It’s going to leave a grease stain. Here—put this on. Tie it in the back.  Tate wouldn’t tell me. The train stopped and it was time for us to get off. He had his big suitcase and I had my little satchel. Sponge off your front while I stir.

Did Uncle Izzy tell you? You’re right; it isn’t coming off.

I’m always right. Nevermind Uncle Izzy. Watch while I do the rosemary. I shake it onto my palms. Then I rub my hands together over the potatoes. Like this. Smells good, doesn’t it? You try it. Over the bowl! Over the bowl!

Yum…I love this smell. The bags, Mama? What did Tate say?

Tate said, “You take my bag, Miriam.” I couldn’t believe it. I said, “I can’t. It’s too heavy for me!”  It was too. He was bringing the Bronx cousins some of his jewelry setting machinery. Dust some pepper over all this.

So what did he say then? Should I use the pepper mill or the shaker?

The mill—give it lots of twists. He sat me back down on the seat. I can still remember the people rushing past us. He looked me in the eye. Make a pattern with the pepper. Make it pretty.

I…twist….still…twist…don’t…twist…see…twist…what…twist…this…twist…has…twist…to with the—how’s this look Mama?–What’s this have to do with the book!

He said how silly of him to think that I could lift his suitcase. “It’s too big for you to handle at your age, isn’t it?” he said. Now watch. See how I put the pan in the middle of the oven? Keeps it from cooking too fast.

Hmmm. Mama, I see where this story is going. Watch out! The spoon’s still in the pan.

You’re a smart girl. Just like me. Tate patted me on the head and said, “You’re a smart girl. The suitcase is like your question. You’re not big enough yet to handle it.” Set the timer for thirty minutes.

So, dear one, that is how we do the garlic and rosemary sweet potatoes…

and that is why you cannot read Lady Chatterley’s Lover!

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Mmmm. These sweet potatoes are sooooo good. Mama, didn’t you ever think of Just. Asking. Uncle. Izzy?

Next time I think we should do more rosemary, maybe some thyme. Ask Uncle Izzy! Oy vey! Never. But! After we got back to Dorchester, I went to see Zeyde Chaim. Do you remember my grandparents lived upstairs in the Dorchester apartment? I asked him. Straight out. “Zeyde? I said, Zeyde, what’s Uncle Izzy’s secret?

Mama, you were brave. And you’re right. More rosemary next time. I don’t know about more time; we don’t want to burn it. So you just up and asked Zeyde Chaim! What did he say?

He sat me on his lap. I remember he was smoking his pipe and had a cup of tea on that little table you have now next to your bed. He says, “Ah, dear one.  Izzy’s secret. Hmmmmm.” He puffs on his pipe and rubs his chin. I can see my Bubbe watching from where she’s setting the table. Finally he says, “Have I ever told you about my Zeyde Chaim and the suitcases?”

Patty

2/25/11

Sheep in a Jeep and Families: What They Have in Common

Baby William came to visit this week, and along with his parents he lured in Cousin Luke and his parents, along with Uncle Doug, and assorted college friends–not William and Luke’s college friends; after all, their combined age is 16 months!

 

 

 

 

Early on in the visit as I watched Baby William’s father read Nancy Shaw’s sheep books something powerful started tugging. I couldn’t place exactly why.  Was it because the scene was cute? My own grown-up son reading to his 3-month old?  The 3-month old watching each page with rapt attention and laughing? The Dr. Seuss-type rhymes that tickle the funny bones even if you’re a baby and you don’t understand them?

“Jeep goes splash! Jeep goes thud! Jeep goes deep in gooey mud!”  Was it resonating because I found myself scrubbing pans in time with the cadence?

Was it because Papi took the books and read them  to Baby Luke, who also liked the kick of the words?

Now everyone’s left, and it occurs to me what the pull of these books was.  The characters in each book are muttonheads, figuratively and literally. From the very beginning of each story they catapult from one thing to another, not unlike toddlers and teenagers. The sheep and the plot Gain Momentum with each twist of the wheel or turn of the hoof. It’s high-spirited; the clueless sheep don’t have the ability to predict what will happen. They plummet, tumble, yelp, but, in the end, it works out okay for them even if they’re still sheep in a jeep who don’t get that you need to steer, as in one of the books, Sheep in a Jeep.

Sheep in a Jeep

Life is like this. It gathers momentum. We’re swept into things. We tumble, stumble, lurch, sometimes even veer-off course.  But in a family where everyone’s watching out for each other, like the sheep who fall onto soft meadows and pillows or reap the benefit of kind passersby, we survive; we’re pulled out onto the shore, we get another chance, we’re nourished and taught.  And we thrive.

Patty 2/24/11