Sunday, April 28, 2013

Leapin' Lizards

And leap they do! Recently, my neighbor Ray and I saw our "first of the season" Carolina anole leaping from post to fence and back again, cocking his little green head, eyeing us right back. Commonly referred to as the American Chameleon, these small lizards, averaging under 6 inches in length, are not a true chameleon at all but are more closely related to the iguana. They do however change from a variety of brown hues to a bright green depending on where they are lounging.

In years past, I had one male anole that made his home behind my wooden octopus near the front door. Each morning I would head out to the deck, coffee cup in hand, to watch the wee guy greet the morning at precisely 8:30 am. He would then wander across the same upper beam of the pergola, head down the same post and enter the trumpet vine jungle in search of breakfast. I wanted to tell him to try a different path, be brave, take a chance and have an adventure. But these lizards are quite territorial and I'm guessing part of that trait for my anole was to follow the same path each day and survey his kingdom.

I once witnessed an encounter between two males on the deck, an aggressive ordeal. Each lizard would inflate his neck displaying a vibrant, flamingo-pink throat as a warning to back off. They would chase each other, tangle up and then retreat. This went on for quite a while until the challenger gave up the fight and disappeared into the trumpet vine, never to return.

I'm hoping the warm weather will now reveal more anoles along with my glass lizards and skinks. Don't you just love Spring?

"One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring."
                        Aldo Leopold

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Embrace the Pace

I am always pleased to discover a piece of tranquility tucked amidst the gift shops and restaurants filled with the ever present onslaught of visitors. On the northern end of Roanoke Island is the Island Farm, a living history site interpreting daily life in the mid-1800s. As expected, there are people dressed in period attire wandering the premises explaining their daily tasks,  farm animals enjoying the bucolic setting and an assortment of historic buildings. The slogan on the brochures is, Embrace the Pace. Surprisingly, it is still a well-kept secret.

But what drew me in was the peacefulness, the smell of freshness and no traffic sounds, just the humming of the earth and its creatures going about their day. Chickens muttered and clucked as they dug their way to China under the cook house, taking dust baths to rid themselves of unwanted parasites. Birds sang overhead while Charley the oxen and Roxie lolled in the field and workers did their chores quietly with a hushed reverence.

Trees and plants were bursting with blooms and a million shades of green formed a backdrop for the simple buildings. Real grass with no sign of sand spurs or cactus stretched from the sheep pasture back to the cattle pen. Sharp sunlight highlighted the whorls and spirals on Roxie's stunning red back while a gentle breeze filtered through the unscreened, opened windows of the various structures.

In 1757, Adam Etheridge leased 1500 acres on this island to farm and raise his livestock, and in 1783, his son Jesse bought 150 acres of this land which now forms the core of today's Island Farm which the family has owned for over 200 years. The Outer Banks Conservationists acquired it in 1997. The family graveyard is the resting place for Adam Etheridge and his descendants, facing east, ready to rise up and meet their maker according to Christian and Masonic traditions. A ninth generation boy's Appaloosa is buried just outside the gate, and there is a memorial to hunters and fishermen, complete with buoys and crabber's boots

Special events like sheep shearing, Halloween and Christmas celebrations are held throughout the year so of course I purchased a season pass. I plan on returning to sketch these events and maybe move into one of these simple homes and just stay forever, living the simple life and embracing the pace.

I hear, and I forget.
I see, and I remember.
I do, and I understand.
Chinese Proverb

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An Ordinary Life

Every living creature has worth. It may not be tangible or something you deem valuable, but no matter how commonplace or short lived, that being has a spirit and a purpose and is worth having in your life. Yes, even mosquitoes have worth because they provide nourishment for the birds that wake you each morning with their songs and the frogs that croon you to sleep every night. Sounds make my life more enjoyable, and in spring, one type of sound makes me want to celebrate the season. That sound is the gurgling of the Brown-headed Cowbird.

This isn't a post about the merits of a Cowbird so please, no comments on how they are a threat to other birds, displacing fledglings from a nest. I know the facts about this bird. This is about compassion and a need to help another living creature in distress and the sadness of a life lost. This feathered Cinderella didn't choose to be born a brood parasite after all, orphaned by a neglectful mother in a nest that doesn't quite fit with step siblings to compete with for food.

I had seen this bird the previous evening, struggling to get some lift, precariously perching on the fence. I was able to get quite close before it flew off only to make a hard landing on the ground nearby. When I saw the bird again the next day, poking around the pergola where the sunflower seeds had fallen from messy eaters, I was able to once again get very close. With all the stray cats and other animals that prowl my yard, I decided to interfere and bring the bird into the house for the night, hoping to release it when it was a bit stronger. Though no injuries were apparent, I felt something wasn't quite right.

I often find myself in situations where I need to step in and lend a hand with wildlife. Maybe word has gotten out - go to the The Crooked Little House if you are in need of a meal, a restful night or some loving care. So I keep a bird cage, terrarium and other containers at the ready. I nestled the exhausted bird onto a soft cloth in the cage, adding some wet bread and soaked, dry cat food, placing the cage in the darkened garage so the bird would calm down and rest for the night.

I had hoped to awake to a flutter of a fit and peppy bird, but instead I discovered the bird had died during the night. I was every bit as sad as if it had been a fox or rabbit or one of my beloved Chickadees. But it was just a dull-colored, common Cowbird, considered a nuisance by many. But it was the first sound of spring to me.

Treat yourself to the sound of spring by visiting this site and listening to the wonderful chortles, gurgles and chatter of the Brown-headed Cowbird.

"The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things."
                                                                                             Henry Ward Beecher

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Crossing That Bridge (when I come to it)

I always dream of traveling to exotic lands, but the truth of the matter is, after three or four days of being away from home, I just want to get back to my own house. I have finally accepted that I am a nester. I don't even like to leave my island, and only do so willingly if headed to Alligator River or to Chesapeake, VA for a day of shopping in all the stores we don't have here on the beach. But unfortunately, there are times I have to leave for services that aren't available here. One of my doctors is in Elizabeth City, NC, so that's where I headed early Wednesday morning, 111 miles round trip.
The break between leafy tunnels on the way to Elizabeth City.

I always have an uneasy twinge when I cross the Wright Memorial Bridge, feeling like my island might be a type of Brigadoon, and what if I am returning home and the bridge has disappeared? Will Gene Kelly come dancing to my rescue? Anyways, it's a long stretch of road through Currituck, field after field, unlike the swampy terrain further south. Used to be, cotton fields lined the road, maroon swaths studded with puffs of white in the fall. But now landowners attentions have turned to the more lucrative wine industry, and grape vines stake their claim where the cotton plants used to thrive.

The road that runs from Currituck to Elizabeth City has a section called Run Swamp Canal, a busy road with narrow shoulders flanked on either side by algae covered canals. It can get dark in this leafy tunnel in the summer when the foliage is at its peak. Trucks especially become impatient if you are going the speed limit, and one wrong move and you could b e in serious trouble. At one point you emerge from the shade and enter the fields for a stretch before once more being plunged into shadow. On this day there was a traffic checkpoint so I took this photo.

Elizabeth City is always under construction, usually around the drawbridge, and this day was no different. I made my way to the far side of town, did what I needed to do and rushed out of the office, eager to get back home. The city is kind of like going to a zoo. I saw women in suits, wearing pantyhose and watches and men wearing ties and tasseled shoes; such odd creatures I rarely encounter.
Elizabeth City

On my way out of the city, I discovered a little park I had never noticed before, a simple boardwalk extending out into the sound among cypress snags sporting lot of knees. Waiting for me were two Yellow-bellied Sliders, a male, the smaller of the two, with an eight inch shell and the female, donning a shell that had to be at least 12 inches. I took a few minutes to do some quick sketches before heading home, never one to miss an opportunity to "converse" with the wildlife.

Finally my bridge was in view, still standing and waiting for my return. There's no place like home.

*I'm fascinated by maps and have a collection of antique ones from the 1800s. So for those of you not familiar with the Outer Banks, I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the locations I'm always talking about.

"Hold the map close to your face. Breathe into it and you will hear a river start."  Greg Kuzma