Outside My Window

Porch Music

The rocking chair wobbles on its fragile frame.  This is the third generation of babies it has cradled.  Naptime for my young grandson is imminent.  Jonathan rubs his eyes and fusses a bit, so I  lay aside the afghan I am crocheting for his soon-to-be sibling.  Jonathan’s rocking days are numbered. I know that full well.  But for now, he snuggles on my shoulder. His short breaths and fluttering eyelids succumb to sleep.

The rocking chair speaks to me of good times spent in its embrace.  The harmony of our hearts beat a cadence of silent symphony. I remember time spent in the rocking chair on Granny’s screened in front porch many summer afternoons.  It was my favorite spot to read a Nancy Drew mystery or write in my diary.

Years later, my daughters would climb into my lap in the bentwood rocker giggling and wet from running through the sprinklers.  Wrapped in beach towels, we read adventures from the library books we’d lugged home.  No matter that the caned back occasionally threatened to dump its massive load.  My two merrymakers remained oblivious. 

Starlit summer evenings would find us back in the rocker.  My two mischief makers holding jelly jars filled with lightning bugs. Our bug lanterns provided ambiance for bedtime stories retold to tousled sleepyheads.  And our old friend with her raspy voice embraced us all.

The same lullaby links the past to the present.  She shimmies with our weight.  Her bolts need tightening again.  And I really should give her joints a spritz of WD-40.  My procrastination has to do with what my great grandmother once said, “Rocking chairs are supposed to creak, it’s their porch music.” 

7 grandsons

Memories Past

Pa Albert on his tractor

The farmhouse still stands, but the tractor my Pa Albert used is long gone, along with the animals, chickens, and barns.  His prize scuppernong vines and muscadine thicket remain.  I still taste their tartness as when I was a child. 

In my earliest memories, Pa Albert loved to set me in his lap.  I was the youngest grandchild at the time and ate up the attention.  His overalls were clean and starched, but rougher than Mama Sewell’s cotton apron. I don’t ever remember seeing him in anything but overalls. 

At precisely six o’clock each evening, we’d huddle in the den around a tiny radio to listen to “The Lone Ranger,” Pa Albert’s favorite.  We “young’uns” were not allowed to interrupt or make any noise.  If we entered the den, it was understood that either we sat in Pa Albert’s lap or at this feet beside the cane rocker.  No exceptions.  Dinner would have been laid, eaten, and cleaned up by the time his program came on.   Sometimes if we were very good, Pa Albert hid treats like peppermint candy in his pockets and we were allowed to hunt for them. 

Pa Albert liked me and my cousins.  He took a lot of time with us.  I must have been around three years old when a patrolman came to our door and gave us bad news.  My parents were upset at his news. The service at the Fairview Methodist Church made Daddy cry.  I didn’t understand very much about what was going on.  I only knew that I couldn’t sit on Pa Albert’s lap anymore.

Looking Back to Look Forward

Farm in SnowWhen I was a young child Christmas at the Family Farm was a special treat.  I was the only grandchild my grandparents saw on a regular basis so I reigned supreme.  Gramdpa scanned his acreage every year for just the right tree to cut for decorating.  The house smelled of pine, cinnamon, Luzianne coffee, and vegetable soup.  I loved all the decorations Grandma pulled out of the old trunk - the cellophane wreath with a red light bulb, handmade ornaments, and especially the bubble lights.  I watched those lights for hours.  It seemed miraculous that the heat could make them bubble and glow.

We strung popcorn and cranberries, listened to Christmas carols on the radio, and trekked through the snow to tend to the animals.  Ben and Blue, Grandpa's mules, paid no mind to the snow.  While the chickens only burrowed into the straw and tried to peck my hands when I "picked" the eggs out from under them.

Christmas dinner lasted practically all day beginning at Grandma's and ending at Mama Sewell's.  They had adjoining farms but in weather like this, we took the car instead of the path.  The best gift was playing with my cousins.  I counted the days until school was out again and I came for my summer visit.

Happy memories at the Family Farm.  I can only hope my seven grandsons have experiences like this to create happy memories in the future.

Hummer Summer

Sheila S. Hudson head shotWhen we returned from our adventure in the Everglades, the first hummer of the season greeted me as the tiny avian helicopter swooped past the patio glass doors.  I put out the first hummingbird feeder with trepidation of last year’s hummer summer.  For those involved, this innocent act might be perceived as a declaration of war.

As always last year’s nectar was a dinner invitation to the hummers we fed from year to year.  And that invitation was accepted but not by the guests we intended.

In less than an hour, my pear shaped feeder swarmed with armies of black ants.  Their voracious appetites were second only to their territorial fierceness. An entire battalion stationed themselves at the base of the feeder and made their presence known. Not certain what to do, I pulled out books and finally Googled to find the answer.

While contemplating my ant problem, the bees attacked.  I was waiting for the red-jeweled avian to feast at my red festooned feeder.  The tiny green male made a valiant effort.  He bobbed and weaved, retreated and managed to spear an oncoming yellow jacket with his maneuvers.  Alas, the yellow jackets and black Army ants prevailed, and with helicopter speed, he zipped into the unknown. 

War was on.  I determined to save face and refused humiliation by an insect army.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I plunked down $30 plus tax for a hummingbird feeder complete with an ant moat.  According to the side panel, ants can’t cross the moat filled with water and feed on the hummingbird elixir.

It is plain that whoever invented this expensive gizmo hadn’t met my Robo ants.  Not only can they swim, but the gigantic carpenter ants among them merely stepped across the moat.  When I complained to the manufacturer, customer service recommended filling the moat with soap bubbles.  Back to the nature store, where after spending another $20 I floated my hummingbird feeder on a sea of non-toxic soap bubbles. 

“Just let them top that!” I sneered.  The next time I glanced at the feeder, the ant engineers had constructed an oak leaf bridge for their horde to stroll across.  One of the soldier ants floated across on a dead comrade.  And still the black menace gorges sweet nectar meant for my hummers.  As a last resort, I took down the feeder hoping that the ant pests would torment someone else. That was the first skirmish.

I waited a week before hanging the hummingbird feeder for the second time. The ants had given up getting anymore nectar from me and moved on.  However, a local squirrel adopted us and made it his personal quest to hang upside down and rob the wild bird food.  Using the hummer feeder as a trapeze, he managed to spill most of the sugar water in his aerialist attempts.  But nevertheless glutted himself on birdseed, corn, and peanuts while washing it down with any remaining liquid in the  hummingbird feeder.

I figured if my hummers happened to return, the bionic squirrel would send them straight to therapy.  All the while, the slap happy rodent has managed to chase off all the cardinals, chickadees, and blue jays.

I moved the feeders higher then lower.  I rotated them. I greased the chain with shortening.  I hung shiny aluminum pie pans and even used noisemakers. No luck.  The Incredible Stanley, as I now called him, was messing with me. For the entire summer, no hummer dined at my feeder and no cardinal perched on the birdhouse.

I reflected on the past months. Spring was spent fighting ants of all varieties: black, red, and carpenter.   After the Ant War came the Intrepid Stanley who raided the bird feeder regularly.  I got so used to him, my husband often photographed Stanley upside down, stretching between the feeders, and once inside a birdhouse. 

One day I noticed that Stanley had mysteriously disappeared.  It was then I spied a red tail hawk as he swooped down over our patio. I feared for Stanley, a weird attachment I admit.

Once again my patio is quiet.  I actually miss the Ant Wars,  being buzzed, and Stanley the daredevil who finally left after the hawk scare plus losing a skirmish with a raccoon.  Now only the hawk reigns supreme.  My own little wild kingdom.  That’s cool as long as there’s no skunks.

Gators, Grackles, and Glades, Oh My!

Sheila S. Hudson head shotEverything I have ever read about the Everglades carried the mystique of danger.  Even in the brochure I picked up at the Welcome Station, it warned visitors that “the animals in the Everglades tend to be aggressive.”

Boat rides are not my favorite activity, but I figured I could handle an air boat ride with 30 other people manned by a park ranger.  Okay, I don’t know if he was really a ranger but he looked official.

He gave us the warm up talk about the swamp and its gator residents.  He didn’t mention other gator relatives but I sensed they were there as well. Pete aka the Ranger did mention fourteen varieties of snakes that live in the Everglades - four of which are poisonous.  That didn’t help my comfort factor, nor did the front page of the Miami Herald with its python stories and how they are overtaking the marshland. 

Pete warned us to remove hats and turn billed caps backwards.  I had visions of gators jumping out of the brackish water and chomping them as they stood on scaly tales like Flipper.

With quivery stomach, Pete revved the motor and pointed out scaly beings lounged on the left and right. Some had a yellow rimmed eye open, and others appeared to be in a deathlike sleep.  The boat’s low sides didn’t prevent a hand from straying outside its realms, but warnings were posted everywhere about being too adventurous or God forbid offering food.  My fears subsided when Pete began to talk about flora and fauna.  The water lilies were beautiful, and the scene was picturesque with the water gardens parting as our boat glided over the black water.

Occasionally a creature peered out of the undergrowth or in a cove.  Pete steered the boat for photo ops.  Many of the gators looked more like a rubber tire than a reptile.  Not a muscle moved but when I stared long enough, I detected a slight lung movement and I am positive he was monitoring our boat like a plate of fast food wafting by.

I dutifully applied bug repellant and sun block before boarding.  Pete donned his safari hat protecting not only his head and eyes but his neck from the burning sun.  Thunder rumbled as we boarded so I had second thoughts about the umbrella.  I knew that the speed of the boat would make it totally useless if we did get a shower.  My companions assured me that it only sprinkled anyway and wouldn’t spoil my venture into the Everglades.

Pete relayed details on the complex ecosystem of the Everglades.  He had a standing offer for those who wanted to swim in the infested waters,  but of course there were no takers.  Cranes flew overhead.  Stork, osprey, and all sorts of wading birds gracefully descended near us.  No doubt curious about us but seeking refuge against what appeared to be a storm brewing.  Clouds pushed in and large drops of rain fell.

I pulled on my hat and held it tightly as the air boat went into hyper-drive.  The boat neared speeds of 50 mph when both engines kicked in.  I marveled at our skipping over the surface of the water like a huge dragonfly.

Fearless Grackle in the EvergladesDrenched and shivering we debarked and took shelter.  My companions and I reviewed our digital pictures when the grackles came to investigate.  The rain persisted.  A lady next to us took out cheese crackers when the entire grackle community buzzed her.  The bravest (and the hungriest) ripped the orange cracked right out of her hand. 

When they warned that the animals of the Everglades are aggressive, I thought of gators.  I had no idea they meant the grackles.  The whole afternoon I spent wary of gators, I should have been minding the grackles.  Who knew they were referring to the harmless looking greeters to the Park?

Panama: More Than a Canal

Sheila S. Hudson head 

shotOutside my Window the rain is tapping lightly on the shutters.  As I peek through the shutters. a hummingbird spreads his wings and stretches his neck toward the sky.  He seems to enjoy his morning shower.  The bamboo orchids next door sway as the basilisk lizard known as the Jesus lizard scurries back to his dwelling.  A gentle breeze wafts by and a coconut drops to the ground.  All the while I sip dark, rich coffee on the front porch. Life is slower, gentler, and seemingly kinder here in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

A mile down the main road, you can find Finca Los Monos Botanical Garden (The Monkey Farm).  I was entertained there by the Howler Monkeys who are in command.  The Gillinghams are owner/caretakers of this 20 acres of rainforest which they graciously share with the public.  Bocas del Toro is a preferred home to many species of oropendola who unique call and conical nests are famous.  Just down from Los Monos, the Smithsoniaqn Tropical Research Foundation have specimens of a newly discovered species of tarantula.  Named Ami bladesi the spider is small, pink, and doesn't spin a web.

Banana. pineapple, mango, and papaya flourish and compliment the array of seafood that are a stone's throw outside my window.