Monday, February 27, 2012

The Last Day

I was leaving at 1:30 p.m.  What to do until then?  Well, first off L told me all about the Warrior Cats books (which she'd inhaled the first two days I was there), and all the various cat clans and dynamics.  That was pretty cool - it seems like a richly imagined world.  ThunderClan are the good guys, ShadowClan are the bad guys, and then the other two clans are aligned as well in a delicate balance of power.  Cats who are under the care of the Twolegs are derided as Kittypets.  (When L was describing ShadowClan's rejection of a newborn kitten who was born a Kittypet but brought over to be raised free with the Warrior Cats, it reminded me of Voldemort's treatment of Mudbloods.)

When other members of the household were up and about, we went out to breakfast at the Over Easy (they have a cute logo on their sign that incorporates a rising sun / fried egg).  I got my usual order-out breakfast, scrambled egg on an english muffin ... with a side of bacon.  Yum!

R went rollerblading while the guys played tennis and I hung out with the girls.  C wanted me to read some books from the Magic Tree House series, so I obliged.  We read #8 and 9, which feature a brother and sister, Jack and Annie, who travel through space and time on quests at the request of Morgan Lefay (who turns out to be a lot nicer than expected).  One of the funny things in these books is that Jack is always getting exasperated with Annie (who typically wants to barge in without a plan - much like Dr. Who), and he repeatedly expresses his exasperation with her by saying "Oh, brother!"  Once I pointed this out to the girls, they thought it was hilarious.  So then I started sometimes substituting in "Oh, sister!" instead - and that was really well received. If only all audiences were as easily entertained!

When R came back, though, I started jonesing for a skating jaunt of my own. I made it a quick trip to the graveyard and back.

The day was a bit overcast, but there were some surprisingly good bird-glimpsing opportunities en route.
On a dead tree branch

On top of mangroves

The graveyard

Of course I ended up going into the ocean one more time just when I needed to get things dried and packed, but it was all very fun.  C is a mermaid with great powers to control the waves, and to talk to birds and animals, and she told me all about it.  (In case you're curious about the hierarchy, C is the Queen Mermaid, and there are just 10 Princesses.  I am not eligible to be a mermaid, because - alas - I did not start early enough.)  

The girls are both amazing in the water. I kept looking for gills, but I couldn't see them.

The sorrow of parting was diminished somewhat because I had company to the airport (thanks B!) and even a little bit beyond since D had to change planes at JFK.  As planned, I got back in time for the Monday night lecture and Tuesday morning back in the office.  Sigh.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wildlife Drive

It is a truth seldom acknowledged, that no trip to paradise is complete without a trek out to the local wildlife refuge.

I tried to go with R and D, but misunderstood the bike situation and thus took a bike that was far too big for me.  After going nearly two miles standing up the whole way, I finally turned back and got a bike that actually fit, but that meant that I ended up flying solo on this one.  On the upside, it meant I got to spend as much time as I wanted gazing on the wildlife.  That came in very handy, as it turns out, since I spent about an hour watching one bird about halfway through the park.

But even while I was waiting to pay my admission fee, I felt I'd already gotten my money's worth because I saw a cattle egret catch and eat a lizard (possibly a brown anole - a non-native species).  The meal dangled clearly out of the bird's mouth - legs and tail splayed out - and the bird was so close to me!  Of course, I couldn't get my camera out in time to catch the egret mid-snack.  

If this cattle egret is looking a bit smug, it's because he just
caught and ate a lizard for a nice little pre-dinner snack.

The fish were jumping! Two or three times I saw a foot-long fish jump a foot or two out of the water.

If you look closely, you may be able to see the fish near the mangrove roots; they're all facing right,
Lizards are not exactly rare on the island, but they don't usually stand so still and close for a shot like this:
Brown anole (?) posing cool as can be.
I've lost most of my skill at naming birds, and I didn't bring any of our birding books.  But I think this might be a great blue heron:

Great blue heron

At a particular turn-off, you get to walk through (and over) a mangrove area to go look out at the bay.  The one sighting you're guaranteed -- if you know to look for it (or rather, them)?  Mangrove crabs!  They're cool scavengers... and very distinctly bug-like:

Mangrove crab.
 We have red and white mangroves in this area.  According to the Florida DEP:
The red mangrove is easily identified by its tangled, reddish roots called "prop-roots". These roots have earned mangroves the title, "walking trees". This mangrove, in particular, appears to be standing or walking on the surface of the water.
Tangle of mangrove roots.
(The red mangroves survive the harsh marine environment by excluding salt; the white and black do so by excreting salt, and that apparently allows them to thrive in saltier waters than the reds.)

A mangrove crab lurks near every knot or burl...
After these adventures, I came across a yellow crowned night heron.  Apparently those antennae-like feathers are for the mating season.

Yellow crowned night heron
I stopped to watch, and watch, and watch, because he was so close (great view) and so persistent in stalking and catching his prey - which seemed to be little crabs.

Mmmm. Crab legs!

Loved the bright orange eyes, and the beautifully classy black-and-white detailing on the body.

After communing with the heron for a long while, I moved on.


One leg, two leg.

When I got to the place where we sometimes see alligators, my phone rang.  It was my brother.  He wanted to know where I was and did I need help getting home.

Well, it was starting to get dusk...  I caved.

Amazing Journeys

R and the girls found this crab hanging out in the chlorinated swimming pool... so they stuck him in a bucket and transferred him to the edge of the sea.  He scuttled over to the salt water.  As the impromptu rescue crew returned to their regular activities, I ran back inside to grab my camera.  I was wondering if I'd be able to find the crab again when I got back.  Right about where I'd last seen him, there was a seagull looking down with a little bit too much interest...  As I came on the scene, the seagull took off, and sure enough our friend the crab had narrowly escaped being the main course for brunch!

Ghost Crab

Identification courtesy of my wise friend SJ:
You've got yourself a ghost crab! I love these guys--they are gentle but fast. They make hole burrows at the high tide mark but have to bathe their lungs in the sea. Go out on the beach on a summer evening with a flashlight and see how many you can find!
I'd made a bit of a breakthrough with all the tweaking and re-tweaking of my paper, so I returned for a final review and re-submitted the revised version.  It's about as good as it is going to get without a complete change of topic.  So I'm cautiously optimistic this time...

 Back at the pool, L was practicing standing on a boogie board.

A moment of triumph!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Weekender: Southern Edition

Egrets on my way to the grocery store yesterday evening:

Went skating for two hours this afternoon. On the way out, everyone else was going the other way, but that worked out well, because they all smiled at me. Very cheering.  Of course, they were all on their way back to town... so they'd gotten a much earlier start than me.

At one point, I was passing by three dismounted bicyclists who were just off the side of the path.  And then my brain processed what I'd seen out of the corner of my eye. That lump in the grass... probably worth turning back for a closer look:

The bicyclists were crowding in around the turtle a bit, which bothered me.  Seemed like it might be  needlessly stressful for the creature.  The turtle was scrabbling its hind legs into the dirt a bit, as if to dig a hole, although not with any particular urgency.  And then one of the guys stepped even closer, and reached down and touched the turtle, began actually lifting it up.  The turtle retreated into its shell -- and I was so flabbergasted I said something like "You're not touching it, are you?!"  The guy backed off (he may have meant to check the turtle's underbelly for markings, but who knows), and after another minute, he and his friends rode away.  The turtle then came out again and scurried off with all deliberate speed.  

In all fairness, it's possible the guys were wildlife experts or even turtle wranglers who happened to be out for a bike ride.  I guess I've just had it drilled into my head for so long that you don't touch wildlife (and instead keep a respectful distance for the safety and well-being of everyone involved), that my first reaction was a mixture of horrified indignation and worry that they were either going to flip the turtle over and leave it helpless, or get themselves clawed or bitten.

It was a beautiful day, partly sunny, but breezy and warm.  It cooled off quickly under the cloudy skies as evening fell.

Monday, February 13, 2012

R.I.P Memorial Bridge (1920-2012)

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation has removed the middle part of the bridge which has connected Portsmouth NH with Kittery ME since it opened in 1923.  Rumor has it that the center span weighed 2 million pounds.  According to the NHDOT website:
The public is welcome to observe the lift span removal and float-out operations from safe nearby locations. While the work zone itself is not open to the public, good views can be obtained from Prescott Park, Four Tree Island, and Peirce Island. Archer Western Contractors, of Canton, Massachusetts is the general contractor for the $81.4 million project, which has a completion date of July 2013 to open the new bridge to vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
I took a few pictures today because I happened to be in the neighborhood; but there is ample amateur coverage by locals who have been rushing over to check things out at key stages of the project as the center span was cut loose and lowered onto a barge etc.   You can check out progress in demolition (and perhaps eventually the installation of the new bridge) via the Portsmouth webcam.

For the time being, the powers that be have stuck the central span next to the remaining portion on the NH side. Apparently it will be shipped out to Massachusetts on Wednesday around noon.  

A giant erector set!
Although the local citizenry were not consulted about the design of the new bridge,
they may have a say in how the decorative elements of the old bridge are displayed. 

If you were wondering where to go for all your barging needs...

Side view of a scrap pile

Head-on view of the scrap pile.  

Saturday, February 04, 2012


It was a spectacular day - mostly sunny, and even quite warm at times.  So I trekked on up to Cold Spring for a jaunt around the Mt. Taurus area.  This time, it was Undercliff (part 1) (yellow)  to Nelsonville (green) to Notch (blue) to Breakneck (white) to Undercliff (part 2) (yellow) to Brook (red) to Cornish (blue).  It was more difficult in this direction!!!  Sadly, the gorgeous icicle display was nowhere to be seen.  And I got a bit of a late start, so had to cut things a bit shorter than I'd hoped.  But the day certainly had its compensations.

The first sign of the day - an advertisement with commentary (below the "ST" in "TRUST").

LOVE this for the grad student type comment: "Citation Needed"

View from the train 

Sorta like "killing with kindness"? (Bless their hearts....) 
Along the Nelsonville trail, things were quiet.  I saw a few folks here and there, but they kept to themselves.

Today there was no ice heave, no icy glaze on the waters, and no icicles... But lots of running water.

This building, though relatively modern, always has a fairy-tale quality for me as it rises incongruously out of the trees.
 By this time, I was on the Notch trail.

I climbed this and took the picture from
mid-trunk (about 3 feet off the ground)

I liked the vertical root structure contrasted with the vertical trunks

A dwarf among elves

I think this has been partially restored - it is in amazingly good shape.

A tangle before the remains of an old farm house

The empty windows remind me of the word cathedral

Seed pods on the bare branches - my lunch spot

moss + lichen

End of the climb
Once I joined the Breakneck trail, I ran into some very upbeat folks who were thrilled to share the joy of a beautiful day.  A guy at one of the scenic overlooks was very curious about where I'd come from (hiking-wise).  It appears he always comes here and hikes the Breakneck trail "there and back again" - so he had no notion of Nelsonville, Undercliff, etc. - he did not even realize there was a train station at Cold Spring.  Hmmm.  Or maybe he was just trying to make conversation.  :)

Blue skies = happiness

View down to Storm King (across the water) and its smaller echo (this side)
Back on Undercliff, I ran into some guys going the other way ... they were getting knackered with the ascent to Breakneck.  Me, I ran into some trouble on the descent - I realized I was getting a bit tired, as I nearly fell a few times.  So I stopped and laced up my shoes a bit.  That helped - they were actually a bit too loose before.

You can actually reach through this tree's trunk in places.
I was struck by how well-marked Undercliff is at the moment - a lot of fresh paint.  It looks a little like they were trying to re-route the path or something. But there was a really wonderful point where the path was flat and straight in the woods, with rectangular stones lining one side of it, and four out of five adjacent stones had yellow arrows on them marking the trail direction.

A ridiculously well-marked path - someone went a little crazy with the yellow spray-paint 
The officially sanctioned route for clambering up these particular rocks
Back on the Brook and Cornish trails, there were (as usual) muddy stretches and small pools in the path.

Reflections for a layering effect 
Ye olde greenhouse - but without glass, it cannot provide a "greenhouse effect"

A "southern gothic" feel of vines dripping down from trees

The boat passing by on the water was apparently named "CLIPPER" -
 but it was not a clipper ship.  I'm pretty sure of that.

Space Invaders.

I noticed again today how spectacularly well-signed - or amply signed - the Village of Cold Spring really is.  They leave nothing to chance, with warnings about littering and use of the ball fields, and who can park where and when, and walking one's pets, you name it!

There seems to be an arithmetic relationship between the speed limit and the age of the town as posted here:

I hear they raise the speed limit by 1 mph for every 10 years.
Back in the heart of downtown, I stopped at the Foundry Cafe and had some delicious vegetarian chili.  Nice chunks of vegetables in it, just the right tenderness.  I read a bit more of my book for class, and - noticing how exhausted I was - congratulated myself on not having undertaken the additional 2.5 miles today even though I'd been tempted.  (I was also very glad I'd turned down an invitation to go to the movies tonight.  It would have been quite the nap.)

A neighborly dispute?

A historic preservation site right across from the train station, which I'd never noticed before.

Oh, sure, NOW they tell me!!!!!!

View from the train station

Chugging along the Hudson back to the city