Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Stella is six today!

December 2009--Stella at 19 months

Today is our youngest grandaughter Stella's birthday #6. The older she becomes, the more I see Stella exhibiting some of the same attitudes and behaviors that characterized Annette, my late mother.

- My mother was a master at recognizing and savoring every drop of joy in the moment. Stella, too, is totally in the moment. 

If, however, something about that moment is not to her liking, she may become certain the end of civilization has arrived and she exhibits her angst appropriately for the occasion.

I suspect she is already growing in her ability to handle disappointment. My mother as the adult I knew was not at all inclined to drama. But from tiny toddler to four years old, her tantrums were legendary, according to family stories.

She would get so mad that she would butt her head on the floor, the ground or whatever surface happened to be under her.

Homespun cures for tantrums failed to faze the determined little Annette. And she did not even need an audience to "throw a fit." One day her mother had finished the dishes and was preparing to empty the dishwater at the base of the fig tree near the kitchen door.

Glancing out the window she saw four-year-old Annette throwing a doozy of a tantrum, already in the head-butting stage. In a moment an extremely exasperated mother changed the target for the dishwater.

She tossed the dishwater and promptly stepped back where she could observe any reaction unseen by her daughter. The dirty dishwater hit the tantrum pause button as it drenched an enraged Annette's head and shoulders.

The suddenly quiet little girl stilled. She slowly raised to her knees and  peered around her. She gazed up. She looked around again. No one was around; no rain clouds were above.There was no hint as to the cause of the mysterious deluge.

That was Annette's final tantrum.

Here are some other traits that I have seen in Stella that were fully matured in her late great-grandmother Annette:

- creating fun out of thin air;

-observing with enthusiasm the world around her, especially people and animals;

- keen recognition of, concern for and taking action to meet the needs of others; and

 -subtle, sly, persistent--but never, in my experience, mean--teasing.

Getting to watch children grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is truly one of the gifts that comes with being a grandparent,

February 2014—Frank and Stella

Happy birthday, Stella!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Feathered spring pleasures

Indigo bunting (Photo By Dan Pancamo)

Husband Walter and I have had several visits this spring from indigo buntings. Each sighting in our backyard has included three males, the brilliant blue plumage an indication they were ready for serious courting.

They were never close enough for a photo, but I got a satisfying photo fix of the colorful species via Gail Dixon’s blog Louisiana Belle here.

My first encounter with real live indigo buntings was the spring of 1980. A whole flock of these remarkable little beauties along with brown females appeared in our backyard, just a few feet away from the sliding glass door in our kitchen. 

In the middle of the flock was a lone male painted bunting. He looked exactly as if he had actually been painted in rich jewel colors. He didn’t look real. He was beautiful but startling with dark blue head, chartreuse back and red-orange breast.

Painted bunting (Photo By Dan Pancamo)

I recognized both bunting varieties. I had seen their illustrations on the cover of my birding field guide every time I had attempted to identify an unfamiliar bird. 

I sat at the kitchen table and watched--unseen, immobile and barely breathing as the living works of art pecked around in the newly mowed St. Augustine grass. There I remained until the group took flight.

By the next spring I was freelancing, writing for Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, a marine-research funding consortium headquartered at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. Locally referred to as “the Lab,” the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory occupied a thickly wooded 52-acre peninsula bordered by a bayou and Biloxi Bay.

Early on, I rode my bike to the Sea Grant office to discuss new or ongoing projects. One of the perks of that work was seeing the indigo buntings, red-headed woodpeckers and a variety of other birds, mammals and reptiles on the grounds of the Lab during the various seasons or in the surrounding waters. 

By 1997 I had been fulltime with Sea Grant for more than a decade. In April of that year I accepted a position with the GCRL, packed up and walked across the parking lot to my new office and new title as GCRL public information officer. 

I loved that I would be going to work every day in an intellectually stimulating environment with less travel than Sea Grant required and with much more opportunity to be outdoors. It had been years since I rode my bike to work and the years came with changes in the varied habitats that had welcomed birds in our town. 

Development had gradually pushed eastward. Privately owned areas closest to the Lab’s campus had changed from woods and diverse undergrowth to concrete and asphalt that served residences complete with over-fertilized lawns and landscapes. 

The GCRL had expanded its footprint, too. I rarely saw the redheaded woodpeckers that once welcomed me onto the campus, and I no longer saw the indigo buntings at all.

I don’t wish for those "good ole days,” but I do miss the exhilaration of seeing those amazing buntings and woodpeckers every year. Perhaps my recent sightings signal a comeback to our area. One can hope.