The Clock is Ticking…

H  ow did the holidays get here so fast?

A  few weeks ago we were eating turkey

P  retty soon the stores were filled with Christmas

P  iles of gift catalogs throughout the house

Y  esterday we hung the lights outside

 

H  ow will we ever be ready in time for Christmas?

O  n December 17th we are leaving for Germany

L  ots of things to prepare for our trip

I   f only the next few days would slow down

D  estinations: Berlin, Dresden, Weimar

A  lot of miles to travel to see people we love

Y  es, it’s the trip of a lifetime

S  ee you in 2016!

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Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

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This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

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I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

Wrapping Up the Holidays…Craving Normalcy

Over the years I’ve come to realize that undecorating the house post-Christmas season is as much of a ritual as all the preparations that precede the holidays. I used to lament this time of year and regarded the months after December as a period of deep freeze..something to get through until the onset of Spring. Now I almost look forward to this season of deep quiet…a hiatus in the frenzy of modern life.

I am sure this has a lot to do with growing older, as I’ve noticed a trend in my experiencing of the world that is drifting toward slowing down, allowing more time for reflection. I used to try to pack as much into a day or a week as possible, trying to cover all bases all the time as a working Mom, wife, and teacher. Now I look forward to any breaks in the routine that allow me to just savor my time alone, often spent looking out my kitchen window at the many birds that enjoy our feeder and heated birdbath, or reading the New York Times. In fact, those two activities are the ones I most looked forward to in retirement.

Today we are undecorating the tree.

This is a complicated process in that it requires my husband to set up the ladder to our attic space, crawl into the attic and retrieve the 9 boxes of holiday decorations that are the result of paring down our collection last year.

Next, we carry the 9 boxes into our living room placing them close to the Christmas tree. Last night, in preparation for today, I went through the house looking for the random holiday items positioned in the places they’ve occupied for decades.

There’s always a holiday candle in the bathroom; this year I added a brass bell on a red silk cord hanging from the bathroom cupboard. The gnomes we purchased this year will stay in the kitchen cupboards for another month or two at my daughter’s request.

I collected the various snowmen sitting on shelves in the living room, as well as the treasured photo of my two kids sitting in Santa’s lap, a memento of our one and only trip to Macy’s Herald Square. I smiled as I picked up the handmade tic-tac-toe board we acquired from a neighbor’s holiday craft sale, along with many of our other handcrafted items we purchased from her. When our two-year-old neighbor was visiting with his parents a few days ago, I presented him with the wooden tic-tac-toe board to play with. He was fascinated by the tiny dreidl I had added to the set of Christmas tree pieces that originally came with the board.

We will try to downsize once again, but it’s so hard to give up family treasures, each with its own story. Dedicated to crafts, we also find it hard to give up handmade decorations that a child undoubtedly made with some effort and lots of love. Yet we know that the clock is ticking and that our children do not want the burden of disposing of all our family memorabilia. So, some difficult decisions will be made today, as we undecorate the tree, sweep up the pine needles from our glorious eight-foot tree (which I got at a bargain price this year), and repack the boxes that will be returned to the attic.

What makes it easier is that I now know that I will not feel sad when it is all done, but will, instead, savor the empty spaces and take comfort in the ordinary clutter that surrounds our everyday lives. I will return to sipping my coffee with the NY Times spread out on the kitchen table while the birds take their turns at the feeder and the birdbath. Normalcy is what I now crave.

Wrapping Up the Holidays…Craving Normalcy

Over the years I’ve come to realize that undecorating the house post-Christmas season is as much of a ritual as all the preparations that precede Christmas. I used to regard the months after December as a period of deep freeze…something to get through until the onset of Spring. For several years now, I’ve begun to look forward to this season of deep quiet…a hiatus in the frenzy of modern life.

I am sure this has a lot to do with growing older, as I’ve also noticed a trend in how I experience the world that is drifting toward slowing down, allowing more time for reflection. I used to try to pack as much into a day or a week as possible, trying to cover all bases all the time as a working Mom, wife, and teacher. Now I look forward to any breaks in my routine that allow me to just savor my time alone, often spent looking out my kitchen window at the many birds that enjoy our feeder and heated birdbath, or reading the New York Times. In fact, those two activities are the ones I most looked forward to in retirement.

Today we are undecorating the tree. This is a complicated process that requires my husband to set up the ladder to our attic space, crawl into the attic and retrieve the 9 boxes of holiday decorations that are the result of paring down our collection last year!

Next, we carry the 9 boxes into our living room and place them close to the Christmas tree. Last night, in preparation for today, I searched our house for the random holiday items positioned in the places they’ve occupied for decades.

There’s always a holiday candle in the bathroom; this year I added a brass bell on a red silk cord hanging from the bathroom cabinet. The gnomes we purchased this year will stay in the kitchen cupboards for another month or two at my daughter’s request.

I collected the various snowmen sitting on shelves in the living room, as well as the treasured photo of my two kids sitting in Santa’s lap, a memento of our one and only trip to Macy’s Herald Square. I smiled as I picked up the handmade tic-tac-toe board we acquired from a neighbor’s holiday craft sale, along with other handcrafted items we purchased from her years ago. A few days ago, when our two-year-old neighbor was visiting with his parents, I presented him with the wooden tic-tac-toe board to enjoy. He was fascinated by the tiny dreidl I had added to the set of wooden Christmas tree pieces that originally came with the board.

We will try to downsize once again, but it’s so hard to give up family treasures, each with its own story. Dedicated to crafts, we also find it hard to give up handmade decorations that a child undoubtedly made with some effort and lots of love, or the exquisitely handcrafted items we bought from our neighbor. Yet we know that the clock is ticking and that our children do not want the burden of disposing of all our family memorabilia. So, some difficult decisions will be made today, as we undecorate the glorious eight-foot tree (which I got at a bargain price this year),

sweep up the pine needles (reminders of which I will find in the house throughout the year), and repack the boxes that will be returned to the attic.

What makes it easier to “unwrap” Christmas is that I now know that I will not feel sad when it is all done, but will, instead, savor the empty spaces and take comfort in the ordinary clutter that surrounds our everyday lives. I will return to sipping my coffee with the NY Times spread out on the kitchen table while the birds take their turns at the feeder and the birdbath. Normalcy is what I now crave.

An Evening of Pure Joy at the NY Botanical Gardens Train Show

I was raised in a family of 8 children: four girls and four boys. Every Christmas my brothers would set up a very large fiberboard platform, painted green,in the bedroom they shared (very large) to recreate their Lionel train display. I think this was not an unusual thing to do in that era; lots of families had their own train displays around the holidays.

In our family, setting up the train table was a ritual that started the holiday festivities. Once completed, guests and family relations were invited “upstairs” to watch the trains run and to see the new layout of the surrounding landscape. Every year new features were added and some disappeared due to natural obsolescence. New features would include more complex track switches, train cars with special features like doors that would open and close, or a milk car whose doors would open and a milkman would appear, unloading milk cans. The display was pure magic and my brothers put a lot of effort into making it so.

Now, many decades later, my family chooses one special event to attend together for a holiday treat. This year, after years of saying we would make the trip, we decided to make the trek to the Bronx to see the annual New York Botanical Gardens Train Show. The excursion was to coincide with my birthday which is three days after Christmas and would include a special dinner at The Hudson Grill, a farm-to-table restaurant.

My 36-year-old son wisely acquired tickets for us on “bar car” night when only adults would be viewing the show. The bar car was an actual feature on our Long Island commuter trains until recently. Commuters loved to hang out in the bar car, imbibing their favorite drink(s) as they returned to their homes in the suburbs, bumping along the rickety Long Island railroad tracks (even more rickety now). The night we chose to attend the show offered several “bar car” stations where we could buy a drink to enjoy as we roamed the grounds of the Botanical Gardens (in the 10 degree weather).

The amazing thing we had read about the displays that surround the trains at the BG is that each item (buildings, landscape features) is created from natural botanical substances including twigs, leaves, stems, vines, tree nuts, seeds, fruit slices, berries and more. Creating these objects requires hours and hours of tedious work to assemble the natural items into a house, or a park, or a bridge, for example; this is a job done by mostly creative volunteer enthusiasts. My daughter and I were probably more interested in this part of the train show than the actual trains.

The Train Show did not disappoint! In fact, it surpassed our expectations in every way. And that is quite extraordinary because we live in the suburbs near NYC and thus have been fortunate to have seen many amazing displays, shows, concerts, exhibitions over the years. But this exhibit is unique both for its subject matter and for its execution. Some people go every year because each year the exhibit has a different special feature. This year, mid-town Manhattan was the featured display and main event for regular attendees.

For first-timers, it was all glorious. The smaller room we first entered included some charming features and a few intertwining tracks of trains constantly running.

At first I felt a wee bit disappointed, lovely as it was. But then we turned the corner and entered the truly magical world of the train show. We were in the greenhouse, surrounded by lush greenery of all kinds, intermixed with the building and train displays in amazing ways. We walked through displays of historic buildings, row houses, museums, soaring bridges lit up like Christmas trees, and even a miniature Coney Island complete with the famous Cyclone roller coaster and the terrifying (to me, as a child) Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel.

There was also a large elephant which I believe was an actual feature at Coney Island in its hey-day. We strolled through a miniature Central Park with a reproduction of the famous Bethesda Fountain and the beloved pond with rowboats.

Finally we emerged into yet another room with the piece de resistance of the show: a reproduction of midtown Manhattan that included the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and much more, all aglow beneath the towering greens that surrounded the display. And of course, there were trains running throughout the display.

If you ever plan to spend time in NYC during the holidays, don’t miss the Train Show! It’s a low-key, communal type experience that is a must-see for young and old. And the drinks we had from the “bar car” definitely added to our enjoyment on such a cold, December night.

To iPhone or to Android? That is the question for me this Christmas!

I realize that what I am about to discuss could be considered by many (including myself) to be a “first-world” dilemma. After several years of avoiding the issue, I am on the brink of owning a smartphone…but which one?

The flip phone I’ve been using for years is a war horse. I can’t even remember how long I’ve had it, but it has served me well through many years of neglect. I do have to remember to charge it pretty frequently as it has gotten older, but that has been the extent of my sense of responsibility towards it. What most amazes me is that I haven’t lost it. Misplaced it? Yes…many, many times. But it always turned up.

I noticed during the past several months that I was beginning to feel slightly self-conscious about getting out my flip phone in public to make calls. I think this is because I finally realized that only people my age still use them, and many people my age have already moved on to smartphones. I was beginning to feel like a throwback to a pre-technological age, and although I am far from being technologically obsessed, I didn’t want to be the last person in my age group to take the plunge.

So here I am, days away from Christmas, still undecided about which phone to get. As we left the house the other night to visit the Verizon store near us, I casually asked my husband how much a new smartphone would cost. “About $800 was his reply.” I was stunned. There was no way I wanted to spend that much on an item I might lose quite easily and might, in the end, find more frustrating than useful. I almost canceled our outing, but decided to see what was available.

The store was mercifully not busy considering it is the height of the holiday shopping season. The person who greeted us was very courteous and knowledgeable. We asked to see some of the lower-end Android models as well as a couple of iPhones. A close friend of mine acquired an LG model (Android) about six months ago, and has been very happy with it. She has a new grandchild, so for her the cellphone has become a portable camera; she is very happy with the quality of the pictures she takes.

I mistakenly remembered her phone as being a Samsung, so that is the phone we examined in two different sizes. The interface of the Samsung is quite user friendly: the screen is bigger, the typeface is legible without reading glasses, and the desktop is very uncluttered looking. The functions it has are more limited than the iPhone, but would probably be all I would need.

The iPhone has a smaller screen, and the cheapest model is $200 more than the cheapest Samsung I looked at. It has many more functions, but some are so specialized I will probably never use them. I will also not being using the phone for games; I am not a game player and never will be. I would rather spend my time retrieving information from the internet. The iPhone with the larger format screen (similar to the Android) would cost even more than the basic iPhone…probably close to $500-plus dollars.

I was completely stumped. I leaned toward the clarity and easy-to-use keyboard of the Android and even found the smaller version of it quite user-friendly. But my family members all have iPhones and use them all the time. I am attracted to the multi-functionality of the iPhone, but I’m nervous about being frustrated in my attempts to use the more complicated functions. I also worry about the higher cost of the phone if it turns out that I end up using limited functions. And the screen is just not as user-friendly as the Android, so I would probably need to get out my glasses every time I use it.

So here I am, just days before Christmas, undecided. My husband is concerned about not having a gift to put under the tree for me. My friends, who both use Androids, have advised me to get the iPhone so I could ask my family members for help with its various functions. The husband said “You cannot underestimate the importance of having someone to explain the various functions of the phone to you, or to help solve a problem as this can be very time-consuming for new phone users.” He feels it best that my phone be compatible with what the rest of the family has.

I wish I had thought to ask you this question sooner, but I didn’t. If you have any words of wisdom or advice, don’t hesitate to share. I still have a few days to decide!

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is my final post for this year. It seems awfully self-centered and materialistic, but it’s a true slice of life. I’ll let you know my choice in the New Year. I feel as though this will be a life-changing decision because it will involve a big change in my daily habits.

Best wishes to all of you for the holidays. May your days ahead be sunny and bright; may your gifts be just what you wished for; may we all be back together again real soon
sharing our life stories.

Barbara

A Dust of Snow and a Dose of Nostalgia

One of my fondest memories of my childhood is going Christmas shopping with my Mom. We were poor but well cared for. I am the eldest of 8 children, so the gifts were modest and chosen carefully. Every year we’d drive to a nearby town where there were many mom and pop shops offering the goods we needed such as gloves and scarves, socks, underwear, ties, pajamas…the practical gifts.

It was a big privilege, or at least it felt like it was, to be included to do the gift shopping with my Mom. There weren’t many things we did together, just the two of us, so it felt like a big deal. I thought about this annual excursion just the other day as I wandered through the endless aisles of Macy’s trying to find similar gifts for members of my family. It just wasn’t as much fun doing it alone, in a big department store, without my Mom. Hence the trip down memory lane.

My next door neighbor, a member of the “millenial generation,” shops for everything online. I’ve done a little of that myself this year to spare myself needless running around, but it doesn’t compare to my memories of shopping and conferring with my Mom about how to make the best choices with the least amount of money.

Like so many before me, as I get older I have developed telescopic vision and can more easily remember the “good ol’ days” than what happened yesterday, or ten minutes ago. And. yes, there is definitely a touch of nostalgia associated with those memories. I remember being dead tired after our shared shopping expedition, walking from store to store at dusk, in the cold, cold air and sometimes snow, examining the goods carefully, feeling good about finding “just the right whatever, for whomever.” I felt so grown up.

It was a much less materialistic time in our nation. A gift was chosen lovingly after seeing it, touching it, and imagining it on the person it was meant for. Although the gifts were fewer and more humble, part of the measure of their worth was how much effort was spent in finding just the right gift for someone. I miss those days and am glad I was young at a time when gifts were either handmade or hand-selected.

Here is a small, seasonal poem that touched my heart today as my daughter and I took a walk several days after our first winter snowstorm.

Dust of Snow
BY ROBERT FROST

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

(from A Poem a Day website)

Hope your holidays are good ones and your memories are even better!

Barbara

Next week: Our final stop on our autumn vacation in Greece…the island of Crete, home of the Minotaur!

Sailing Around Santorini: A Once in a Lifetime Event

Our final day on Santorini, the second stop on our island-hopping Greek vacation, came all too quickly, but we had decided to do something really special. We bought tickets to sail on a two-masted schooner around the caldera created by the volcanic eruption on Santorini.

Our first stop was to be the still-active volcanic island of Nea Kameni where we would leave the ship and climb to the top of the volcano.

At our second stop on the smaller island, Palea Kameni, we would swim to shore to bathe in natural hot springs, then swim back to the boat. Our third, and final stop, was to the island of Thirassia where we would anchor and take a short plunge once again into the Aegean, then back onto the boat for dinner and the sunset.

“The island group of Santorini- Thira, Thirasia and Aspronisi-is what was left over from the last major volcanic eruption 3,600 years ago. The volcano erupted at a time when the island was inhabited by a prosperous civilisation similar to that on Minoan Crete. The island inhabited during the late Bronze Age…formed a solid (rounded) mass from Faros to Aspronisi. From a small opening between Faros and Aspronisis, the sea flowed into an inner caldera at whose centre the peak of an underwater volcano similar to that of today’s Palea and Nea Kameni jutted out….

Between 1600 BC and 197 BC a series of periodic submarine effusions led to the creation of a large underwater volcano whose peaks are the Palea and New Kameni islets. the first emergence of an island from the sea was documented in 197 BC by the great Greek geographer Strabo.

Eight more eruptions have been documented from then till today…which formed the Palea and Nea Kameni islets, the youngest landform in the eastern Mediterranean. After the last eruption of Nea Kameni in 1950, the Santorini volcano remains dormant till today.” (This information was taken from ‘Geothira’ a guide to the National Geological Park of Nea Kameni.)

This excursion to Santorini’s nearby volcanic islands was the highlight of our stay on Santorini. The guidebooks are not always right, but this was a highly recommended activity and we were so excited about it both before and after the experience. The boat itself was a beauty, made of wood, large enough to contain approximately 50 people on deck, and fully loaded with sails and all the pulleys and ropes you might expect would be needed to sail a boat of this size. Everyone got on board, found a perch and settled in for a beautiful afternoon.

At our first stop, we were greeted by the sight of a pure black, lava-rock landscape. The path we were to follow went straight up the volcano.

I had my doubts as to whether I could climb to the top, and the continuing heat did not help my cause. Most of the people on our boat had already set out for the top as I lingered behind. I encouraged my daughter to continue without me, as I stopped for a breather on a small bench with a kooky palm-tree umbrella providing the shade. I chatted with a French woman (in French) for about ten minutes, then decided I really did not want to miss the opportunity to climb the volcano, so off I went. I climbed slowly but steadily, knowing I had to get to the top before the group decided to come down. We had a deadline to meet back at the bottom of the trail to reboard our schooner.

As I took my final steps to the top, I spotted my daughter and waved to her. She joined me and we quickly circled the perimeter of the top of the volcano, stopping to enjoy the magnificent views of the Aegean, and to examine the volcano-monitoring equipment perched at various spots on the volcano.

We also saw the sulfurous fumes emerging from fissures in the lava indicating that this volcano is still alive and kicking. The predication is that it may become active again in about 20 years!

We quickly descended the trail and made it back to the boat with plenty of time. I felt very proud of myself, indeed.

Next we sailed to our first swimming spot; a natural hot springs at the foot of another volcanic island. The ship could not get very close to the beach due to the rocky shore, so our only option was to climb the boat ladder and push off into the sea, or dive from the boat. Again…I wasn’t sure if I was really up to the task. We had been warned that the currents were very strong and that only people who knew how to swim would be encouraged to swim to shore. We were each provided with an Aegean-blue colored “noodle” to help buoy us in the water.

I stepped off the ladder and plunged into the sea, not expecting to go under but I did. I popped up gasping and tasting the very salty water and began paddling as fast as I could toward shore. All around me the ship’s passengers were bobbing up and down in the sea on their noodles. When we reached the rocks, we had to crab-crawl over them using our hands and walking very slowly because they were very uneven and slippery. At that point I noticed big smiles on everyone’s faces as they crawled over the rocks.

Then I spotted my daughter who had already made it to shore, covered with mud from head to toe from the natural hot spring! I really wished I had a camera to capture that moment. Everyone was rolling around in the mud, smearing it on their bodies, and laughing. Then we all kinda’ reversed our direction to crawl back over the rocks and out to sea to rejoin the boat. The swim was not easy! I don’t think I would have made it without the noodle, for sure. But again, I felt very proud of myself for having succeeded at this second challenge at my delicate age.

We headed toward our final stop, a small picturesque port nearby. We anchored a bit offshore and were permitted to get back into the water to swim around the boat while the crew began to prepare our dinner. They fired up the portable grills and we jumped back into the water which was crystal clear, and surprisingly devoid of any sign of life beneath the surface. My daughter wore her goggles so she could spot some local fish…but there was nothing.

Back up the boat ladder, with the gorgeously tanned captain helping each of us ladies back on board. Everyone went back to their original spot and began changing out of their bathing suits for dinner. Watching everyone change behind towels was very amusing, and there was a general vibe of goodwill spreading throughout the ship.

We lined up for our grub which included chicken or pork kebabs, many kinds of salads, pita bread, dips, olives and Greek wine. Hungry after our adventures, everyone eagerly devoured the delicious food and settled in to watch the legendary sunset over the island of Santori.

Suddenly, the sound of live music wafted over the deck and we saw one of the crew members standing in the middle of the ship, playing some beautifully mellow jazz tunes on his saxophone.

The captain suddenly appeared to let down the sails since a breeze had suddenly arrived.

As the sun went down everyone became silent as they lapsed into private daydreams about the incredible day we had all shared on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As we headed back to port, the lights began to twinkle on top of Santorini until the island appeared to be covered with sparkling jewels above us.

The sun had set, the breeze was soft and warm, and our final excursion from the island of Santorini had been perfect.

Hope Is a Thing With Feathers…and So Is a Turkey!

Instead of continuing today with my tour of the Greek Islands, I will deviate in honor of Thanksgiving. In the midst of housecleaning, food shopping, making plans for Thanksgiving, my daughter and I decided to take a quick walk in the late afternoon along the shore of our nearby harbor. We’ve both been juggling some chronic health issues and have both been feeling depressed by the tidal wave of accusations of sexual misbehavior so prominent in the news recently and the generally depressing state of affairs in the country….

Today I will celebrate our afternoon walk together. It was restorative and uplifting in ways we hadn’t expected. I am sharing with you the Emily Dickinson poem, Hope Is a Thing With Feathers. You’ll soon see why.

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)
Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

**************************

The first birds we spotted on our walk were a couple of Buffleheads in the distance bobbing up and down in the harbor “like bathtub toys” as my daughter likes to say. It was good to see them back in the neighborhood.


(Martha’s Vineyard Gazette)

After having walked only a short distance farther along the shore, we noticed a very large and unusual bird on the raft where the double-breasted cormorants usually hang out. We had neglected to bring our binoculars, so I squinted as best I could to try to capture the most visible characteristics of the new bird so I could find it later in my Birds of North America guide.

About ten minutes later as we continued our walk, we saw near shore a handful of Brants…then suddenly saw there were dozens, maybe even a few hundred of them floating on the tidal currents. I’ve seen Brants before, but never in these numbers. We really enjoyed watching the flotilla which was very actively squawking and dining on the local sea grasses.

Floating on the edge of the cloud of Brants were a dozen or so very large and stately mute swans, floating gracefully like tall ships in the harbor.

At that point, we turned ourselves around and headed back home. We were thankful for the beauty we had witnessed, for the cyclical return of some of our favorite winter birds, and for being fortunate enough to live so close to this lovely New England harbor. Yes, today, hope was a thing with feathers that arrived just in time for Thanksgiving so I could share it with you to boost your spirits in the days ahead.

And, by the way…the unusual bird was a female Great Cormorant, a bird I have never seen before in this harbor and one I “hope” will visit us again soon.

Happy Thanksgiving fellow Slicers!