Posted in Life

Sometimes You Have to Look

I see a lot of things on my morning walks. Just this month alone, I’ve seen…

…an armadillo rooting for grubs…

…a cicada shedding its shell…

…a big toad sprawled belly-down on a wet sidewalk…

…a raccoon sneaking around a garbage can.

When I post the pictures of the critters I come across, people are often surprised. Several have replied that they’ve never seen a cicada emerging from its shell, and more than one friend has told me they never saw a live armadillo the whole time they lived in Texas.

Lately, I’m beginning to wonder if they ever LOOKED.

You don’t run across armadillos during your typical 8-5. You have to get up early and peer in the bushes. (I peer in all the bushes.) It’s easy to miss a fresh cicada drying its wings on a fence post. You have to keep an eye out for them. (I keep both eyes out for them.) If you want to see the bunny taking a dirt bath in your yard, you have to keep the blinds open, and if you want to hear the screech owl hoot at dusk, you have to stand outside and listen.

Sometimes if you want to see something, you have to look for it. So think about what you’re hoping to find, and put a little effort into discovering it. Get up early. Stay up late. Take a different route. Turn a different corner. Peer under some things and sneak up on others. Slow down. Wait. Look. The thing you’ve been hoping to see might reveal itself to you.

Posted in Life, Reading

Simple Pleasures

It’s been a while since I traveled.

The last time I flew somewhere was in October of 2019 when I took myself on a writing retreat to The Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. I spent a long weekend writing, reading, watching the wildlife, and taking long walks through the woods by myself.

The last time the hubby and I took a vacation was in June of 2019 when we spent a few days in the San Juan Islands in Washington. We spent our time hiking the shoreline, watching the wildlife, and taking long walks in the woods together. One of the reasons why I chose the house we rented was because it had so many comfy spots to read.

For me, traveling isn’t often about the go, go, go and do, do do.* I like to sit and stay and experience. It’s about doing the things I love somewhere new. Some of my favorite things to do are reading good books and taking long walks through nature, and I like doing these things wherever I am. Planning for vacation, for someone like me, means the paperbacks I choose to put in my carry on bag are just as important as the shoes I pack in my suitcase. (And those shoes better be made for walking.)

I’m sure there are some people out there who squirm at this idea of traveling. Why go somewhere just to read? You could have covered so much more ground and seen so many more attractions! You’re missing out! I get that, and I concede that there are some destinations where reading would be a dangerous waste of time. (You probably shouldn’t take a book on a safari.**)

Despite opinions to the contrary, this is the kind of travel I love, and it’s served me well. For one thing, books are sponges; they carry the memories of the places they go better than any souvenir. (Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man holds my trip to Peru between its pages, and all I have to do is look at my copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary to be back on the plane to England in 2001.) But a bigger benefit of being a creature of habit is that the things I love to do can be enjoyed anywhere. Even at home.

The hubby and I made the difficult choice not to visit our families for Thanksgiving this year. If we could have popped in for a quick, outdoor gathering, that would have been great, but it’s a four-hour car ride to see my side of the family and a four-hour plane ride to see his. Due to COVID-19, it just wasn’t worth the risk. So I spent my week off work walking the trails near home, reading and listening to good books, and hanging out with the wildlife, both inside and outside of the house. I even turned my front yard into a coffee shop for a day.

Uno and I enjoy a latte at our cool new hangout.

I’m grateful for simple pleasures that I can enjoy anywhere. I’m grateful for my health and for the ability to stay in touch with my loved ones even when I can’t visit them. I’m grateful for the stories that keep me entertained while I wait for the world to heal.

I’m looking forward to traveling again. Hawaii, Greece, and Chattanooga*** are all on the bucket list, but the first trip I take when things are safe again will be to visit the families I’ve been missing for too long.

Wherever I go, though, I’ll be taking my books and my walking shoes.

* Aaaaaaaand, now I have “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by The Police stuck in my head.
** I changed my mind. ALWAYS bring a book. Question: What’s the best book to take on a safari?
*** What? It’s nicknamed “The Scenic City” and is supposed to be a lovely place.

Posted in Life, Poetry

After It Rains

Rain is an event here in Austin. We tweet about it, talk about it, marvel at it, and sometimes dance in it. At times, we get more than we need, as happened during the terrible Memorial Day weekend floods earlier this year. But more often than not, we go so long without rain that its presence is cause for celebration.

And it’s not just the humans that celebrate.

One of my favorite things about the rain is how it brings the frogs back. On nights after the city has been washed clean by thundershowers, my husband and I take the dog out for a walk at dusk and play the game of who-will-spot-the-frog-first? It’s not always easy, in the dark, to distinguish between frog and leaf. You can’t tell for sure until it hops.

Things get really exciting when our lab-mix sees one before we do. Then the frog is hopping and the dog is hopping and we’re tugging at the leash saying, “No, Uno! No!” and laughing all at once. Luckily, there have yet to be any casualties in this game.

[If you’re thinking, Isn’t this supposed to be a poetry post?, scroll down. The poem is at the end.]

Toad in potted plant

The most amazing thing to me is how many frogs suddenly appear. (After this week’s rain, we ran into seven on one walk.) It’s hard to imagine that they’re here, all the time, burrowed down into the ground, waiting out the summer heat. It reminds me of one of my favorite parts of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli:

In the Sonoran Desert there are ponds. You could be standing in the middle of one and not know it, because the ponds are usually dry. Nor would you know that inches below your feet, frogs are sleeping, their heartbeats down to once or twice per minute. They lie dormant and waiting, these mud frogs, for without water their lives are incomplete, they are not fully themselves. For many months they sleep like this within the earth. And then the rain comes. And a hundred pairs of eyes pop out of the mud, and at night a hundred voices call across the moonlit water.

It was wonderful to see, wonderful to be in the middle of: we mud frogs awakening all around… It was a rebellion she led, a rebellion for rather than against. For ourselves. For the dormant mud frogs we had been for so long.

I love that book.

The frogs (or toads—I’m still a little unclear about the difference, but these critters are probably actually toads) aren’t the only creatures who celebrate the rain. I spend morning walks after stormy nights helping displaced earthworms out of the street and back into the grass. (Some are more grateful than others.) And anytime the sidewalks are wet, we have to watch our steps so as not to squish the snails sliming their way along the concrete.

Where I live now, we mostly have the small snails with the long spiral shells, rather than the big round ones that lived at my previous home. I miss those snails. There’s only one house in my current neighborhood that has them, and no one has lived there for years. (Except the snails.) I miss those snails so much that one night last March, after a rain, I decided to carry two of them home with me.

Here’s an email I sent to my family about the encounter: (My family members email each other about strange things.)

Tonight I decided to kidnap a couple of big snails from the empty house down the street and bring them home. I don’t know if they’re good for the yard or bad for the yard or if my yard has what they like to eat or not, but they’re pretty and I like them so I decided to grab a couple. I’ve picked up snails before. What happens is, they immediately hide inside their shells. Then you put them down again and they come back out. No problem. So I picked up a giant snail in each hand– for some reason I had a glove on my left hand and no glove on my right– and they dutifully tucked themselves inside their shells and we continued our walk.

BUT… (you knew there was a but)… after a few steps, they came back out! They were completely unbothered by the fact that I was snail-napping them and they came FAR out of their shells (more than an inch– these were big guys) and started trying to slime around on me! AAA! I spent the rest of the walk squealing and slowly twirling the snail in my bare right fingers to keep it from getting a grasp on my skin and slithering up my hand. I ignored the one in my left hand, and he happily oozed himself onto my gloved thumb and sucked on it until I dislodged them both (gently) in our flower bed. The whole thing was sort of disturbing.

Anyway, the great snail saga reminded me of a horror story by Patricia Highsmith about giant man-eating snails called “Quest for the Blank Claveringi” which you should all read at some point. The end. Goodnight.

Well, I never said it was as good as Jerry Spinelli.

One of the snails, at least, survived the great migration. We see it now and then happily sliming its way along the fence.

To me, post-rain evenings are filled with poetry. Everything’s fresh and clean and good-smelling. Life wakes up. Creatures stir. Even the sunsets are better. I’ve got several poem drafts in the making that were inspired by damp earth and wet sidewalks and colorful, cloud-scattered skies. But since those aren’t ready yet, I’ll end by sharing one that I wrote a few years ago, just after I moved into this house. It’s about the snails.

This poem was originally published in di-verse-city in 2011 and then reprinted in A Texas Garden of Verses in 2013. I hope you enjoy it.

Snail on pumpkin

Something I’ll Miss About My House on Ramsey

The snails
in their smooth spiral shells
the size of hazelnuts
that came out
after it rained

inching their way up
the glass door
sliding across the porch steps
leaving shiny trails
on the sidewalk

and the way I tippy-toed
to the garbage can
trying to avoid
that sickening

© Carie Juettner, 2010.