Monday, March 31, 2008


If I’m to live up to my self-ascribed trait of being adaptable, then I must be willing to adjust to anything thrown my way, right?

So, love that cold drizzle!

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

nesting and lambing

To me, nesting is about setting up a home and attending to it. To Ed, nesting is about wanting to have chickens running around his farmette.

My enthusiasm for chickens is low. When I lived with my grandparents in the deep countryside of Poland, the neighbor’s chickens depleted the meadowland of grass and left a trail of droppings so fierce that you could not side step it. Not good news for a little kid who liked to run around barefoot.

Today, the chicken issue came up again. We never set out to look at chickens. They just sort of presented themselves.

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We were at a nearby farm (A-Z Farm) that opened its doors to the public today to show off its incredible haul of little lambs: 62 moms gave birth so far this season, 53 still waiting to deliver.

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It was a wonderful, wonderful sight. Two day old lambs? Your heart wouldn’t melt? Your fingers wouldn’t reach for the fuzzy little head?

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And the sight of the lambs chasing their mommies for a sip of milk! It brought back memories of feeding the very young…

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come on, mom! get up and play!

What I could not tear myself away from was the pen with the pregnant moms. Their discomfort became my discomfort. Some looked like they were on the brink (as indeed they were) and I thought it worth my time to stand, watch and wait.

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…until a woman came up to me and whispered. Listen, I’ve been coming here for four years and I have yet to see one born when I’m here.

I’m so transparent.

There were other farm animals. Baby calves (2 days old), baby goats, pigs and chicks. A farmer shows us this one:

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...yes, sure. Cute.

In the way that my heart and soul goes out to the sheep mamas and their babies, Ed’s attention is on the chickens. I expect he’ll be carting a few home soon. I’m hoping to fall in love with them. I mean, they’re not quite like the lambs, but still… fresh eggs, daily, a sweet little hen in my lap… there are some good images out there. The man could have wanted to raise pigeons. Chickens are tons better than pigeons.

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FOOTNOTE: I am no longer publishing unsigned comments.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


…you feel an upsurge of optimism when none is warranted. I’m writing about weather, but I’m thinking of non-weather episodes. The yes! moment, when you break through a thick fog and surge forward.

And then, next morning, visibility is down to near zero again. If you pardon the weather analogue.

Okay, no more about fog.

I cleaned my red Mr. Giant today. Ed, the bike expert, lubricated the chain and gave me appropriate rags and twigs to wipe out five months’ worth of grime and dust on the body. And we set out to do a small ride. Country road, take me home...

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I got cold. In Paoli, I sought refuge in an art gallery, just to take the red out of my nose.

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On the ride back, the chill in my face and limbs receded a little. But really, it was not a warm and sunny time.

Friday, March 28, 2008

week-end high

It’s true. I’m not home for many week-ends of the year. Especially in Spring. I’m never home in Spring. It must be that way. And, it must be that my being away for significant periods of time (in May, June, part of July) is during, arguably, the nicest months in Madison. I cannot complain. No one forces me to head east or west or anywhere, for that matter.

But this is why I am so anxious about the weather now. I hope for perfection on the weekends I am here.

Today was a March version of perfection. I couldn’t really take advantage of it. It’s not quite the week-end. But I celebrated by staring long and hard at these (I was there late in the day, repotting my own orchid):

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..and then by sitting out on my balcony watching the sun go down.

Imagine (all you there in the sun belt)! For the first time in 08, I sat out on my balcony. (Truthfully, I was in my fleecy wrap, snuggled. Much like the orchid below. But still…)

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

and today

how’s this for sad?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Seize the day! Roll up your sleeves, go play on the big lawn, dance, dance, frolic!

Because tomorrow it may snow.

(I myself did none of the above. Wednesdays are work days with few windows for air. Indeed, only from my office window am I able to see others take better care to keep the season alive.)

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008


No, not my age. I left that number some years back. Okay, but the air! Did you feel that spring vibe?

I leave the Law School and I pass a colleague smiling. The world is smiling. Fifty!

For the first time in months, I get in the car and head out to the fields. South of Madison. Right now, it’s no use looking for spring. The cornfields are still so… last year.

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The stand built by the Hmong family of farmers? Deserted, surrounded by dried leftovers from fall. (But note the puddles, the melting snow...)

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Hey, people, it hit fifty!

A young one is out, finding the leftovers from last fall quite tasty.

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She sees me, hesitates, and continues working away at the cob.

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I want to see her in flight, but I cannot get myself to blast the horn, shout out, or do anything that would clearly startle her.

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But, she startles nonetheless. And flees.

What a gorgeous day! Did I mention that we hit fifty on the thermometer?
(Yesterday? Was I concerned about something? Can’t remember…)

Monday, March 24, 2008


It bugs me when I sit down to write a post and realize that every thought I had all day long is not blog-worthy. Usually (and today is no exception) this says something about how the mind (my mind) can wrap itself around just one theme and percolate around it all day (obsess is another choice word that could be used here). To no avail.

There are in this world, I think, two types: those who obsess and those who block. I’m with the second camp most of the time. But today, I tasted life on the other side.

Let’s hope for a quick return to blocking and, therefore, blogging tomorrow.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


At 1 p.m., Ed and I happen to find ourselves in the Visitor Center of the Arboretum. I notice that a guided walk is about to begin. The theme? “The return of the whooping crane and other signs of spring.”

Sounds good on paper, but with a thick covering of snow, the walk cannot progress as planned. The naturalist suggests that instead, the small group seek out animal prints in the snow.

What a let down to the participants! A spring walk, transformed into a winter stalk. And a glorious Easter to you, too, over there in the sun belt!

We set out on our own. I know the Arboretum well. You could say that it has held hostage the high points and low points in my life. But today, I just want to find my own spring.

Maybe this: melting snow in boggy growth. Good enough?

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No… We trudge further. As boggy growth spreads into crab shrubs and who knows what else, we encounter a symphony, a carnival of birds – cardinals, robins, upside down chickadees – I name only the ones I recognize…


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It is an exhilarating moment.

I wish I could say that the day was made supremely beautiful thereafter, but in fact, by dusk, the chirpiness faded and reality set in.

Besides, soon after, it began to snow.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

coming home

The last flight puts me into Madison at 1 a.m. Late, but only two hours behind schedule. And who could complain, considering that most flights here had been cancelled.

I sit next to a seasoned Northwest flight attendant. She’s heading home to Milwaukee – her fiancée is driving down to Madison to pick her up (all flights to Milwaukee were cancelled). She’s tired, having worked the Manila and Tokyo routes. But her make up and clothes are perfect – made to last, not a crease.

She’s not yet ready to drift off into a nap and so we exchange the fleeting comment you throw out when a full paragraph of thoughts seems like too much effort.

I like traveling to Europe best, but a three-day Asia run pays better.
Planes are full. Do you get to work business class a lot?

You bid and seniority puts you where you want to be in the cabin. I prefer coach.
I think of the transatlantic flights, always packed in the sardine class, with tired, edgy travelers…
Yes. In coach, you give them a drink and dinner and that’s it. In business, you are on your feet serving every need – it’s a different job. And the people… She shakes her head.

We’re standing in some part of the Detroit airport, waiting for a thorough deicing (note: on the second day of spring).
The crew should explain what’s going on, she comments, almost to herself. There you have it! A call for a flight attendant! Someone is anxious.

We wait another half hour and finally, we take off for the short flight.
It isn’t as much fun to work the flights these days.
I’m sympathetic. It isn’t as much fun to fly either. To me, fun is measured in terms of leg room. Every inch adds a modicum of fun. As a frequent flyer, I get to pick premium seats – bulk head, exit row. Without that benefit, these multi-leg journeys would be … not fun at all.

Going through bankruptcy was tough. We all took a 40% cut in salary. Now I’m finally earning the same as a dozen years ago.
Again, she’s found a sympathetic ear. When you work for the state, you forget that in some spheres, salaries actually go up and your spending power increases over the years.

The snow is still coming down hard. The city looks as it did in December, January, February. And yet – it’s not so cold. In spite of it all, there’s hope.

The next day I venture out and give a small grin to the trees just out the door. Not for long. You wont look like this next week.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

from Puerto Rico: heading south

We should stay longer, I say provocatively on Thursday morning, our last full day on the island.

But several hours on the phone with various airlines underscores the stupidity of trying to prolong a spring break getaway. The cost of making changes scares us, especially Ed, away from going any further with this idea.

Still, we want to at least taste a different part of the island. The northeastern tip has a beautiful rainforest, true, but the rest of the space is densely settled. It doesn’t invite a quiet, contemplative ramble, for example. And so we decided to head south toward Ponce.

The highway that cuts through the mountains of central P.R. makes this an easy trip, even if we do get a late start on things. Back to San Juan, then up to the top of the range, then down again. Two hours later, we are in a different world.

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We get off the highway as it touches the southern coast. The air is hot and dry, the sun is intense. The coastal local road passes through villages that are barely that.

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Houses are small and they vary from teetering and run down, to quite pretty and very colorful. All make great use of windows and shades to create a flow of air. I don’t see a single A.C. unit. I am at one with these people!

At the side of the road, someone is having a snack. I'm thinking that our own breakfast (slightly less reptilian) was many hours ago.

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In one hamlet, we pick up a narrow lane that heads toward a slip of land jutting into the Caribbean waters. Mangroves, Ed tells me. Ever since our plans to kayak the Everglades fell through, I have wanted to get a feel for these trees with salt water roots. We set out on foot, keeping away from the muddy inlets.

The area is enchanting if you can overcome your aversion to the occasional litter – an abandoned refrigerator, plastic, always the plastic, coke cans, worn out shoes. Ed tells me that in his sails to even the most remote islands, he’d find litter washed ashore. Plastic is a forever kind of menace.

If anything, it reminds me of how much each one of us has contributed to messing up the planet and how good it would be if we all rolled up our sleeves and cleaned it up. You know, so that the grandkids can run through sand and not see a single coke can. Dreams.

Still, the area is nowhere near as littered as the roadsides in the toe of southern Italy. The trash is an occasional thing, rather than an out and out eyesore.

We walk through the dryer section of the mangrove forest and the sun is really intense here. The still waters take on the colors of a swamp.

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The noise of birds and the rustle of fleeing reptiles are evocative. At one point, I smell something rotting and I ask Ed ( in all seriousness) if there might be a corpse further in the swamp. He gives this a minute of thought. Maybe, he tells me.

There is a small path that leads us right at the water’s edge. It’s an absolutely perfect spot. There is a small barrier of sand and shell, creating a walkable, knee-deep sea wall of sorts. Ed and I wade out into the sea.

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The shoreline is stunning from this vantage point, as are the islands of mangroves to the side.

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We take a while to watch a crab move along the brittle sea floor and the pelicans do their hunting act, searching for schools of fish, falling with a big splash into the water upon finding one.

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It’s getting to be late and we still want to see Ponce. We get back to the car and head further west.

I hear that Ponce is the self-proclaimed capital of this region. It’s a pretty little town. The old square with a stark white church surrounded by pastel buildings. The branching streets, equally pretty, have a feel of a slower pace. I like slow.

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It does lack, in my mind, a café life, but that’s just me, not being able to imagine that a place with this kind of climate would not want to push everyone outdoors all the time. We do find a (indoor) spot for coffee just off the square and I settle for a small cubana (I swear she called it that) but con leche and Ed digs into a flan. The sole other patron orders something similar.

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I read that the old Ponce harbor has been revamped, forming a nice public space and so we drive down to stroll there with the local folk: up the boardwalk and back again. The food stalls are a tad more spiffy than those along the northeastern coast, though the food is the same – fried seafoods, plantains, pastries filled with meat.

Along the dock, pelicans boldly vie for the attention of the visitors. They want an easy catch and the fish here are too big even for their voluptuous throats.

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It’s an enchanting scene.

But I notice it’s already 5 and we need to make our way back to San Juan. I have one of those dawn flights out the next day. Four flights, actually. Ed managed to land a direct route from San Juan to Chicago. Me, I have to do it the hard way – with stops in Georgia, Florida and Michigan. Hoping to land in Madison, in spite of the blizzard. (Blizzard??? Are we for real???)

At the last minute, we book a room at the edge of old San Juan. It probably is a mistake. The hotel, with its casino, is exactly the type that would turn both of us off (big, very air conditioned, very loud). But I want to have at least a few night hours in the old city.

You have to know your limits. Put us in a room in a jungle, where the only sound is of birds cackling outside and the only cooling agent is a breeze passing from one window to the next, with the luxury of free WiFi too boot and we’re happy as anything. But here, in old San Juan, where Ed steps out onto the street because the pavement is too narrow to accommodate the crowds and gets bumped by a car trying to squeeze through, where every few blocks, you have the beggar, asking for money, because there are just so many people who obviously have it – makes us (and eureka! -- Ed and I are similar in this way) feel sad and weighed down.

It doesn’t help that the hotel charges for Internet in the room and so we huddle outside the (jarring and loud) casino to access the free WiFi there. And BTW, I have never in my life been inside a casino. Ed suggests that I use this opportunity to look. I do. Never again.

Still, I’m not complaining. We saw old San Juan at night.

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We ate tapas in an old courtyard, by the light of the (full?) moon and I had the best mojitos to accompany my fried langostino pockets (note to Tim: could not, could not find your family's standard fare!).

In the morning, Ed drives me to the airport. He is like that. Never complaining about a simple act of kindness. Especially if it saves money.

My plane takes off and I look down at this unique Caribbean island – American, not American. Warm, in all ways.

A grand trip.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

from eastern Puerto Rico: warning

We are under a high surf and flood warning. There is an ocean swell – the largest in decades, I read – producing unexpected high waves all along the northern coast of the island.

We are on the northern coast of the island.

The idea was to take the ferry to one of the Puerto Rican islands between here and St. Thomas. They’re laid back kind of places with great hiking opportunities.

We drive up to Fajardo, the town from which the ferries leave. Predictably, the ferries are not going anywhere. The islands are cut off. Waiting for calmer seas.

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Most everyone knows this, of course. A few hopefuls come to the ferries anyway, peering out at the horizon, wanting the miracle of a settled ocean. The bay by the port is itself as still as ever. But the barrier islands and the reefs just off the coast are taking a hit (as is the entire northern shore of Puerto Rico).

We notice a tiny little put-put ferry idling a motor. We go up and ask where it’s going. The sole passenger (call him Andrew, if you wish) tells us that it’s leaving for the most proximate barrier island, in the protected waters of the bay. It’s a short ride without much at the end of it. Just a few condos, a marina and a bar.

That’s plenty for us. We hop on board for the free ride.

Andrew is spending a week there, fixing up an older boat, a Hunter 34. I’m from Britain, you know. I pick up boats cheaply here and sell them in Europe.

I have to ask: how do you get them from here to there? Cargo?
No, of course not. I sail them.
A tiny 34-foot sail boat?? Across the ocean??
Yea. I’m looking for a crew now.
And how long does that kind of a trip take?
Last time -- four weeks, but I went from up north.
That’s a long time on the water…
Yea? What else do I have to do in life?

That’s one of those unanswerable questions so I fall silent. Ed, however, wants to know the specifics:

How much did you pick her up for?
A steal at $50,000. I’m hoping to sell her for $100,000.

We get off and walk up to his little investment.
They named her “Control Alt Delete.”
Can you change the name?
No! That’s bad luck!

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The world of boat people is a strange lot to me, but Ed, the long-time and long-term sailor, is in his element. As we walk over to Andrew’s sloop, I’m half thinking he’ll volunteer to be part of the crew. But he holds back. Probably doesn’t want to waste his return ticket to Madison.

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We linger for a few minutes and watch the ocean waves beyond the reefs. White, rolling surf, crashing toward the shores.

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We head back to Fajardo.

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And now we’re on the road again and I’m trying not to mind the driving habits of everyone even as I notice that Ed, who never drives fast at home, is getting into different habits here. I tell him that if he stays in the fast lane, we’ll pass the road stands. He pulls over, spins in reverse and mira! A fruit stand before me. I pick up a mango.

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Just up the coast, we get out to take a closer look at the surf. People have been warned to stay off the beaches. And they do, except for the occasional scavenger who wants to see what the ocean spit up.

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A dad and son ride up on their bikes. The boy gets off and stares at the crashing turf. The dad points to the big wave. The boy watches in silence. Awed? Scared maybe?

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We head back to El Yunque, driving past villages where more than once, someone will ride past you on a horse. Or a bike. Or both.

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At the rainforest, we make our way to the “Disneyland” hub – the one with all the information postings and well-tended paths. There is a splendid educational center, a café, gift shop, etc. The necessities. I’m not scornful. I buy a good coffee and look out at the forest canopy from my elevated perch on the terrace, up there where tree flowers bloom.

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Always wanting to find the quiet spot, even in “Disneyland,” we buck the suggested itinerary and head toward the peak (Mt. Britton). The hike from the road is a short 40 minutes each way, but it’s steep, and half way up we lose the carnival of tourists. The sounds of the birds and tree frogs take over.

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Near the top, the rain comes down again, but this is a mere tinkle compared to yesterday’s deluge. And at the summit, we are beyond the rain. Around us – mist and clouds, rolling up the hill quickly, revealing in fleeting moments just fragments of the jungle.

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We find a different route back, borrowing parts of the service road that rambles down in some vaguely helpful direction. And this may well be the highlight of today’s walk. It is quiet, but for the screech and twitter of the birds. Occasionally, the old road turns in such a way that we can catch the view all the way down to the sea. Or to the jungle summits.

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And always, there is a canopy of palm and breadfruit, bamboo, banana and hibiscus and countless other vegetation – very old, very young, all forming a dense mass of beauty.

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This part of the rainforest has rules and the rules are that it “closes” at 6. We’re nearly there now, timewise, but we want one last hike, this one to La Mina – an El Yunque waterfall.

It’s another half hour descent (and then, of course, assent) to La Mina. The light now is changing rapidly and it’s hard to pick out the details of a darkening forest. But the trail hugs the stream and here, the views are lovely.

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At the base of the falls, three hearty souls are taking a swim. We watch, in the way older types watch something that has absolutely no appeal anymore as one weighs the pleasure of a swim against the reality of a hike back in wet clothes.

We turn around and head back up toward the car. It’s dark now. The road out of El Yunque is downhill all the way and Ed turns off the motor so that the car rolls down in neutral, in keeping with the quiet of the forest. We are the only ones here. Occasionally around the corner, we see the lights of the coastline.

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But I’m not lingering. All I can think of is food.

Ed says we’ve somehow missed the boat on eating and I think he is right. Eastern Puerto Rico isn’t especially a tourist destination and so you have to really dig to find the good local places – no one is going to do the work for you. Our Inn hosts are not local people – their taste in food isn’t born out of any tradition that I would ascribe to the area.

Still, we follow their suggestion and go to Las Vegas (I am assured that it si NOT named after, well, you know, Las Vegas in Nevada).

And indeed, as the evening progresses, the place fills with families and couples, all animated in that terrific conversational style that I associate with a Latin or Mediterranean tradition.

We order seafood salads and creole sauced shrimp with local root vegetables and ginger ice cream for dessert. Wonderful foods. Las Vegas luck.

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