Meandering along the Basin Trail

In case you haven’t noticed, I quite enjoy walks and hikes. My latest excursion, last weekend, was The Basin Trail at Fort Fisher. The Basin Trail (difficulty: easy) is 1.10 miles one way-so a little over 2 miles there and back.  It begins at the Fort Fisher Visitor Center and winds along the sound side of Fort Fisher across straw, wooded walkways and sand. It travels down a path surrounded by trees, shrubbery, the marsh, a World War II bunker and it ends at an observation deck overlooking the Basin.

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Along the way, you can expect to see Spartina salt marsh, hermit crabs and an assortment of seabirds, including but not limited to, plovers and oystercatchers. There is also an abundance of fish, shrimp, clams and oysters. Depending on the time of year, you may also see loggerhead turtles, hawks, ducks and many more species.

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You will pass a WWII bunker that was originally built by the Army Service Forces in 1942 when Fort Fisher was part of a training and support facility for Camp Davis, located in Holly Ridge. Fort Fisher closed as a training facility in 1944 and the bunker was abandoned; but from 1956-1972, Robert Harrill, a hermit who lived on the salt marsh, found and occupied the bunker. Mr. Harrill fascinates me and I intend to talk about him further in a separate post. 

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Once you reach the observation deck, you will see Zeke’s Island across the water. You may also see Brown pelicans fishing, kayakers or even an occasional wind skier.  

After you walk the trail, you can do like I did and enjoy the beach. The parking at the visitor center is free and provides access to the beach. The visitor center also provides restrooms, tables and an area to rinse off when you exit the beach.

Not a bad afternoon for free fun.

Brookgreen Gardens

A few days ago, I wrote my Haiku of the Spectacular Pig whom I met recently when I visited Brookgreen Gardens. I actually saw several beautiful sculptures that day and thought I would share a few more with you.

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Brookgreen Gardens was founded in Myrtle Beach, SC in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Their intent was to display American sculpture, develop gardens using plants from the South Carolina Low Country, and educate others about art, conservation and the history of the region.

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Archer Huntington wrote that Brookgreen was “a quiet joining of hand between science and art”.  Today, among other things, it contains several plant and sculpture gardens, a zoo that houses animals which are native to the region and an old rice plantation. Brookgreen offers exhibits, classes, pontoon rides, nature excursions and much more.

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I spent several hours at Brookgreen and only saw a small portion of what it has to offer. My first trip focused mostly on the sculpture gardens. I have yet to see the zoo or experience the excursions. 

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But Brookgreen is not a place that you want to rush. I enjoyed savoring the trip. I will go back later to see more. 

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On a practical note, Brookgreen contains two restaurants which are affordably priced so you can stay all day. And if that isn’t long enough, tickets, which are $16 for adults, are good for seven days so you can go back later if you are still in the area!

 

 

Opaque

When I first started thinking about the word “opaque”, snakes kept popping into my head. I guess I was thinking about their eyes. You probably know that snakes shed their skin in one big piece. This process is called ecdysis. Did you know that as a snake gets close to ecdysis, its skin becomes dull and its spectacle, which is a clear scale that covers its eyes, becomes milky? For that reason, when a snake is about to go into ecdysis, it is said to be opaque or pre-ecdysis.  You can learn this by googling the words “snake opaque”. You can also learn that Amazon has snake print footless tights for sale for $11.99. I’m not a big fan of snakes, but I just happen to have a few pictures from a previous visit to the Cape Fear Serpentarium. I’ve already used them to gross out my friends on Facebook so why not share the love and delight you with them, as well? 🙂

Below is a picture of a snake skin I found one day when I was out walking. I would have been running if he were still in it.

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And here are the tights in case you are interested. Very nice.

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Also, as an added bonus, I wrote a six-word story to describe this post:

It’s not tights. It’s a snake! 

 

Pleasing sounds on a spring night

I love the sounds of a spring night. I turn off my TV and sit in the quiet listening to song birds, crickets and the occasional dog as they lift their voices to the sky. Throw in a couple of frogs and I’m in heaven. Lately, the lead singers of my outdoor concerts have been the birds. There are times when the crickets and cicadas rule the night, and in the summer, after a rain, the frogs take the lead and sing their parts. But right now, it’s the birds. I’ve actually pulled out my computer and launched investigations to determine which birds are making the sounds that please me so.  My current suspects are mockingbirds, the whippoorwillblack birds or robins, but I’m not an ornithologist so I’m not completely sure. It could be another species completely. Whoever it is, I find their songs delightful, and thank goodness. If not, I’d be losing my mind trying to rest as they pretty much dominate the acoustics of the sky.  Instead, their songs lull me to sleep.

I’m a girl who digs the sounds of nature. I find them comforting. When birds are singing, crickets are chirping and frogs are croaking, it feels like, at least for the moment, all is right in my world. As long as they don’t sound panicked, I kind of assume that a catastrophe is not immediately at hand. If it was, the animals wouldn’t be singing. They’d either be hunkering down or let’s face it, hauling ass. That’s a bit morbid, but you have to admit, there is usually more peace in chatter when it comes to nature than quiet. Chatter means everything is still operating as usual.

I do have other nocturnal sound makers in my yard besides the birds. There is a feral cat that lets himself into my yard every night. I know because I hear the cling when he squeezes himself through the gate which is always ajar in the morning. His visits are both exciting and antagonizing for my cats who race to the back porch and scan the yard to determine his location.  Every now and then, one of them will spot him in the darkness or he’ll come right up to the porch, and I hear them hiss or spit. Interesting that they challenge him because I feel like he could probably take either of my cats, but perhaps I do not give them enough credit. There is also the fact that they are separated by the screen. I know the feral cat is a he because I’ve seen him out there spraying everything. Otherwise, I’m not sure what he does in my yard , but he comes regularly. Might be trying to catch those birds.

And then there are my neighbor’s roosters, who do not simply crow at dawn, but rather anytime, day or night, whenever they feel the urge; although I have to say that as I write this, they are quiet as little baby mice.

I don’t know why I am so pleased by these sounds. I guess it is because they fill me with peace and a sense of connectedness. I don’t mind them at all whether they be wake-up calls in the mornings or lullabies at night.

Anchors

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Yesterday, I took half a day off work to watch my nephew participate in a Fun Run at school. I arrived moments before the race, just in time to see a young, athletic woman with a booming voice and a microphone announce each class.

“Mrs. Smith’s 2nd grade class is lining up for the race!” she boomed. “Let’s put our hands together for Mrs Smith’s class!”

The spectators clapped. The children ran to the starting line like a football team at the Super Bowl. They smiled and waved to friends and family. After the children were in place, we put our hands on our hearts and listened to the national anthem. Someone at the starting line held up the American flag. Then the race started. Loud music played over the speakers. The announcer encouraged the children, told them to have fun and directed them to stop periodically for water. I stood on the sidelines with my brother and my mother to watch for my nephew as he made his laps. I loved seeing the enthusiasm and excitement on his face, and on the faces of the other children. They ran with determination and some of them were grinning from ear to ear. Teachers and loved ones on the sidelines gave them high fives and snapped their pictures with cameras and cell phones.

A while back, I learned the term “emotional anchor”. It hit me that moments like the run- moments of freedom, support and accomplishment-are the moments when we drop those anchors.

After the run, I still had some time before I had to go back to work. I ate lunch with my mother then we walked at a local arboretum. As we leisurely strolled the paths at the arboretum, we discussed the topics on our minds. We took pictures of flowers and fountains and sculptures. We enjoyed the serenity of the Japanese garden and watched a woman and her child feed koi fish in a pond. We perused the flower beds to discover that the arboretum had planted clover, turnips, garlic and other vegetables and herbs.

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We found two beautiful orange Adirondack chairs and relaxed in the breeze and the shade as we talked. “This has been so nice,” my mother said when it was time to go. “I don’t want to leave.”

I agreed.

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As we left, she shared her childhood memories of the arboretum. When she was a child, the property that now belongs to the arboretum was her elementary school.

“There is where we had band.” She pointed to one door that now leads to offices inside the arboretum.“Over there is where the parking lot was,” she pointed across the way. “There were huge magnolia trees in the parking lot.” She looked around with nostalgia. “I had a wonderful teacher…I was happy here”.

More emotional anchors.

We hugged. She left to finish her day. I drove home, recharged and peaceful, to complete my work day. I will have to say that those four hours off were definitely time well spent. Anchors for me, I guess.

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Everyday Adventure

Recently, I started subscribing to a service called “The Produce Box”. Each Thursday, I place a cooler on my front porch and a representative, who I have yet to see, delivers fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers right to my front door. Sometimes, I work from home on Thursday. When I am home, I usually find myself checking the front porch a couple of times before she actually delivers my food. Last Thursday was no different. Around 1:00 pm, I decided to check the front porch for my stash. I opened the door and stepped out to pick up my cooler, which was tucked into a corner right by the front door. I could tell by the feel of it that she had not yet come so I stepped back inside. I closed the screen and was about to close the front door when one of my cats, Mia, jumped onto the back of the couch; she craned her head to see out the front door and to smell the smells of the front yard. I have a screened porch on the back, and my two cats stay out there a lot; but the front door is usually closed so the front yard is a mystery to them.

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Like most people, I have two sides. One side, creative Wendy, is my soul, my freedom. The other side, practical Wendy, is the one who holds down a full-time job and pays the bills. Now, at the moment that Mia climbed onto the back of the couch, practical Wendy felt like she needed to close the door and go back to work; but creative Wendy was empathetic to Mia’s desire to look outside so I decided to leave the door open for a moment. I stood there and looked out the door myself. It was a bright, glorious day with a brilliant blue sky. It was rather windy. A gentle gust of wind found its way to the front door and I breathed it in. It was a contradictory wind, crisp and cool like a soft winter but warm, as well, as if it were wrapped in the sun. A wind enveloped by the sun. Practical Wendy suddenly decided that I was getting a little doughy so it would be good to take a break and go for a short walk down the road. I stroked Mia’s little head, closed the door and put on my shoes.

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I live on a gravel road that is nestled between two areas that are quickly being developed. Developers are foaming at the mouth to get their hands on my road, but the residents have put up a fight. For now there is a moratorium on annexing our road into the city. I kind of like walking down the gravel road. It’s dustier, there are potholes, but when I walk down my road, I feel like I’ve put a little extra effort into my walk. It’s also different than the roads around me. The neighborhoods on either side are very cookie cutter, but my road is a little slice of  country. It is a mixture of double-wides and houses and everyone has a large yard. There are times when my large yard is a bit too much for me to handle. If the developers win, I will greet it with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I probably should live somewhere that is easier for me to manage. On the other hand, this much space is hard to come by in today’s world.

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You see things on my road that you don’t always see in other neighborhoods. One of my neighbors has a couple of roosters and several chickens. Frequently, I look into the yard to see what I call “the chicken posse” wandering around, pecking for bugs and seeds. They act very entitled to my space and provide no end of entertainment for the cats, who sit crouched and watching them with interest.

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As I made my way down the road, I remembered a couple of houses with un-fenced yards where the people let their dogs run free. This drove me crazy when I had my own dogs-God rest their canine souls-a German Shepard mix and a lab mix. Best dogs ever. They spent over a decade with me. Sometimes, it was like dodging bullets walking them down this road. I never knew if one of the neighbors’ dogs would dart out to greet us and whether it would get along with my dog, who was on a leash. Once I had to let my lab off the leash so that she could run home because two jack russells came tearing out of their yard, nipping at her. I didn’t want her to get mad and strike back.

When I got halfway down the road, sure enough, a barking dog ran to the corner of his yard, not so much in an aggressive way but not entirely in a friendly way, either. It was more of a “Hey! Hey! What are you doing here?!” kind of way. I glanced up and regarded him. The thing about dogs is there is a way to handle them. You have to hold your own without challenging them. “Hello, doggie,” I said, glancing over, but I kept my pace and continued walking. His owner called him from the yard. I passed another house with a goat fenced in the back yard. All of the noise from the barking dog had gotten him worked up and he was back there bleating. Two houses down, another dog. This yard was fenced but the gate was open. Geez, people. This one approached me in a little more of a badass fashion. Same thing. I regarded him. “Hello, doggie,” I said and kept on going. He stood in the road and barked after me as I continued my trek.

I walked to the end of the street. There was a large yard at the end of the street that for years housed only a shed. “Suspicious”, one of my friends had commented when we had walked the road together. But now the shed had expanded. It had become a tiny house with a second story. I could see an air conditioner protruding from the window on the second floor and two adirondack chairs in the yard. Maybe not so suspicious, after all, I thought. Maybe just a person with limited funds who needed time.

I turned around and started back. Within minutes, I saw the second dog standing in the road, waiting and looking my way. As I walked towards him, he started barking, “Hey! Hey! What, are you comin back?!” I stayed the route. For a long time, he didn’t move. I wondered how this game of chicken was going to play out, but eventually he moved out of the center of the road toward his house. His movements were slow and subtle so as not to not lose face, but he never stopped grumbling.

Then past the goat again and the first dog, whose owner had gone inside. He/she stood on the edge of his yard with a friend, a little white terrier mix. Reinforcements, I guessed. “Hey! Hey!” they barked as I walked by, “Didn’t I tell you last time? Where are you going?” These two actually came out into the road and sniffed at my legs in between barks. Eventually, I left them behind.

I wandered back into my own yard. I wondered if my produce had arrived.  I didn’t know what time it was, but I knew my break was over. Practical Wendy had let creative Wendy out for a while to decompress, but now it was time to go back to work.

Birds and Bar Flies

Halligan’s is an Irish pub near my house. I‘ve been there a few times and I like it for several reasons. First of all, the food is delicious. My favorite dish is the chicken boxty. Chicken boxty is chicken, mushrooms and spinach over a potato cake in mouthwatering cream sauce. It’s to die for. Halligan’s also has an assortment of beer and they have a great outdoor seating area that faces a man-made pond surrounded by birds. There is a very large crane that hangs out around that pond.

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One of the great things about living in NC is that we have sporadic spring days in the middle of winter. It can be 30 degrees one day and two days later it will be in the 70’s. A few days later, it might be freezing again. When random spring happens, we all head outside; we go for walks, ride down to the beach or sit on a patio somewhere having dinner and drinks with friends. If you don’t watch it, the fluctuating weather will make you sick, but it’s usually worth it.  

One spring day in winter, I met a friend at Halligan’s. We sat on the patio and ordered food and beer. I can’t remember what kind of beer I ordered that day, but it was probably something like Blue Moon or Bud Lite Lime (don’t laugh, they’re very tasty) or a cider because those are what I usually drink. Or a ginger beer. It could have been a ginger beer.

After ordering, I sat talking with my friend. As we caught up, I noticed a fly buzzing around my glass. I waived it away but it kept coming back. I had only had a couple of sips when I noticed the fly in my beer, flailing and fighting for his life. I sighed. “I can’t drink this now,” I said then wondered what to do with the fly. On any other day, you could have handed me a swatter and I might have flattened him, but on this spring winter day, as he scrambled for his life in my glass, it just seemed senseless to watch him drown.  At least when they get flattened, it’s like they died in battle. There’s no dignity in drowning in wimpy beer. I picked up the glass and walked to the edge of the patio. I poured the fly onto the grass and watched him lay there in the sun. When I returned, the waitress was at the table with my friend.

“I decided to try to save a fly’s life, if you can believe that,” I said, “but I think he’s going to die, anyway. He’s not moving”.

“He’s probably too drunk to move,” laughed the waitress.

“Maybe he has alcohol poisoning,” I said.

“I’ll get you another one.”

She took my empty glass and returned with a fresh beer. My friend and I sat on the patio and finished our food and drinks. “Let’s walk over to the pond before we leave”, said my friend, “maybe we’ll see that crane or some turtles”.

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There is a little bridge that crosses the pond. As we headed for the bridge, we saw a row of white coastal birds sitting on the rails. At the time, I thought they might be herons, but after a little research, which consisted of me googling on my phone, I convinced myself that they were a type of bird called white ibis. We crept very slowly toward the bridge so that we would not scare the ibis. I was able to take a few pictures of them as we moved closer, but eventually they moved away from us.

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We were not alone for long, however. A group of Canadian geese on the far end of the pond noticed us, probably noticed my friend’s to go box, and started swimming and honking their way across the pond. One fat goose, in particular, acted like he’d never eaten a meal in his life. My friend succumbed to the pressure and pulled some bread from the to go box.  We pulled off just a little bit of bread and threw it in the water, but we quickly realized that the fat one was a bully who ran off the other birds and gobbled up all the bread for himself. Survival of the fittest. We devised a plan to throw a decoy piece one way for the chubby goose then throw another piece the other way for the other birds. Once we felt they had been given an adequate snack, we closed the box. Some kids appeared on the other side of the pond and the geese quickly kicked us to the curb.

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As they swam away, I marveled at the day, at how the sun reflected off the water and reflected the images of the geese onto the water.  I felt so blessed for being able to take advantage of the day.  

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Since that encounter, I’ve read that you aren’t supposed to feed bread to the birds. That’s a bummer. I guess in the future, I’ll have to keep the bread to myself. It’s going to be really hard to say no.