Category Archives: Birds

Fakename’s Animal Planet: Ducks

Last evening, I watched a program on “Nature” about ducks.  I’m sorry to say that I knew very little about these most common of birds.  Common in the sense of widespread, but not in appearance or behavior.  My favorite duck of all time is the Wood Duck.  Here is a male:

Here are a male and female together:

I am happy to report that I once saw a little family of Wood Ducks at Wakulla Springs in Florida.  Wakulla Springs is 14 miles south of Tallahassee.  They give boat tours down a small section of the Wakulla river and there is an amazing concentration of wildlife in this short section.  So on one of these trips, I spotted a male Wood Duck leading his ducklings to the water.  And if you looked hard enough, back in the dimness of the vegetation near the water’s edge, you could just spot the perfectly camoflaged female, remaining perfectly still.

One of the amazing facts about Wood Ducks is that they nest in trees.  The day after the ducklings are hatched, the mother flies out of the tree and the ducklings follow…even though they can’t really fly.  They are more or less in free fall until they hit the ground or the water.  The ducklings have been known to fall as far as 290 feet without injury.

After watching the program, my second favorite duck is the Eider:

These ducks live in the Artic.  Eiderdown (taken from the breast of the female Eider) is still used as filling for clothing and bedding, although it has largely been supplanted by feathers from other birds or by synthetic materials.  The good news is that you don’t have to kill the duck to pluck the feathers.  (Although I seriously doubt they will be happy with the process.)

The most amazing thing about Eiders is that they can fly up to 70 miles per hour in the air.  I say “in the air”, because they also fly under water.  In their natural habitats, Eiders dive to the sea floor to pick crabs and mollusks.  They only have about a minute before they run out of air.  So they pick the food from the sea floor and rise to the surface to eat it.  The program Nature showed incredible footage of Eiders flying underwater.  You cannot call what they do “swimming”.  Swimming is what they do on the surface.

After watching this program, I decided to do a little research on duck hunting in Florida.  I was hoping that my beloved Wood Ducks were protected.  No such luck.  In fact, from what I can tell, there are no protected species of ducks in Florida.  And unlike deer, there is no prohibition against killing females (although that prohibition is occasionally lifted in the case of deer).  This makes sense, since the female isn’t needed to feed the ducklings.

All male ducks perform very fascinating mating dances, while the females sit back and watch, and judge, and eventually choose. The program followed one unfortunate male duck who was rejected every time.  You can only imagine what was going through this duck’s head.  (“Why doesn’t anyone want me?  What am I doing wrong?”)  Finally he’s successful (“At last, my love has come along…”).

For some reason that wasn’t explained, there are normally more males than females, and male ducks will fight one another.  That was remarkable footage too…a duck fight.  It’s actually pretty brutal.  In one scene, there were a large number of male ducks fighting one another.  It was like a chain reaction.  Once a pair began to fight, so did everyone else.  It looked like a barroom brawl.  There was a shocking ending to this.

The mating dance is usually this peaceful process, but after this fight, one of the males grabbed a nearby female and engaged in what the narrator delicately called “forcible copulation”.  The narrator says that ducks are one of the only species which does this.  The moral to this story is that if you’re a female duck and a fight breaks out, don’t stick around to watch.

Geography Lesson, Florida Version

On Friday, the local paper’s top headline on Page One was entitled “For The Birds”.  The story is about the purchase by Audubon of Florida of Lanark Reef.  I’d never heard of the place.  But it’s in the Gulf of Mexico about a mile south of Lanark Village.  And I do know Lanark Village.  You have to pass by it on Highway 98, between Tallahassee and St. George Island.  It has a much larger cousin, Dog Island.  Dog Island is 6 miles long and 1 mile wide.

It turns out that this place I never heard of is one of the most important sites for nesting, over-wintering, and rest stops for migratory species, for all sorts of birds. It has the largest rookery for brown pelicans out of only four in the state.  (What?  Only four?) So I guess this is not only a geography lesson, it’s also an ornithology lesson.

The article says the reef is 6 miles long also, but most of it is submerged at high tide.  It’s a sand flat, with mudflats at both ends, and the “dry” part can sometimes be submerged itself during high tide…or a storm surge.

So here is the absolutely hysterical part.  Since 1956, Lanark Reef has been in private hands.  In 2011 it was “acquired” by Premier Bank from a private developer.  One wonders what “acquired” means in this context.  Prior to that, the developer applied for a permit to build houses here, and was denied.  Duh.  You wanted to build houses on a SAND FLAT?  Only in Florida.  It sounds like something from a book by Carl Hiassen.  (Read “Sick Puppy”).

60% of Dog Island is managed by the Nature Conservancy.  The other 40% has private houses, and true story:  during Tropical Storm Debby this year, two large families who were vacationing together had to be rescued from Dog Island by helicopter.  Two large families and a dog, that is.  The basket that was lowered to the house could hold two people at at time–or one person and one dog.  They had a boat of course, because that’s the only way to get there, but there was no way they could have taken it anywhere safely.  The Gulf was churning like a washing machine.  It took the authorities a long time to find a helicopter.  All the ones in Florida were in use rescuing other people. I think they finally got one from Texas.

If that happened on Dog Island, picture what Lanark Reef would have looked like.  The people in those proposed “homes” would have drowned long before a helicopter could get there.

Audubon purchased it for $33,000.  Again, What?  That sounds like about $32,999 too much for a worthless piece of “land”, if you can call it that.  But we value land by whether or not you can build or grow something on it, and birds don’t count.

Now that Audubon owns it, they have a new rule.  You can’t set foot on it.  You can ride around it in a boat, and look at the birds through binoculars, but you can’t walk on it.

One of the birds that likes to hang out on the reef in winter is the American Oystercatcher.  Shorebirds love nesting on sand flats, and they love hunting in mudflats.

So another true story:  Once when Fakesister was visiting, we went to Bald Point State Park for a little fun in the sun and amateur birdwatching.  Bald Point is not that great as a sunbathing beach, but it’s good for birdwatching, because there are mudflats close enough to shore that you can almost see the birds there.  We were both armed with our bird ID books, and were having a friendly discussion about whether the birds we were seeing were sandpipers or sanderlings.  When what to our wondering eyes should appear but a Serious Birdwatcher, loaded down with a tripod and a camera with the largest zoom lens I’ve ever seen.  It would make a fatal weapon if you hit somebody over the head with it.

Serious Birdwatcher guy set up his gear very close to us, so Fakesister and I decided to ask him what the little brown birds were.  We were a little hesitant to interrupt him, but decided to be brave.  He turned out to be incredibly friendly and completely willing to share his passion with us.  And he asked if we wanted to look through his zoom lens at the mudflat he was trained on.  We did.  And there, for the first time, we saw American Oystercatchers.  I had never heard of them, speaking of ornithology lessons.

Here is a picture of one, and this is exactly how we saw them.  Feet submerged.  Bright orange bills, poking and snapping.  They are considered threatened in Florida.  I wonder how they’re doing now, since oysters have become more scarce.  The photo is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the premier place to go if you want to learn about any bird.

Backyard Oasis

I took this photo last Saturday while standing under the protective canopy outside the door, because I was so struck by the beauty of the scene.  It was absolutely pouring rain, which obscures the forest behind the trees you can see clearly.

Looks like a park, doesn’t it?

I live a half-mile north of the Interstate (I-10) and the city limits, and about two blocks from the major north-south highway (U.S. 27) through Tallahassee.  So how, you might ask, is such an urban forest of 11 acres allowed to stand?  That’s a long story.

But every day that I come home from work, I take U.S. 27 to a tiny street called Ray Road (one block long) into my neigborhood and the first thing I see when I turn onto that street is a wall of trees straight ahead.  A side view of the forest.  And no matter how stressful my day has been, I am instantly calmed down.  There is no medication that would work better, and anyhow, medication wears off.  The forest never does.

I then take another tiny street (Laris Drive), a two-block street, for one block and then I turn onto my own tiny street, which is an amazingly long four blocks.  And there I am, home to the oasis in the middle of an urban environment.  My neighborhood is basically a dead end neighborhood, though it is not a cul-de-sac.  There are four ways in and out, but you can only go so far.  You can go in from the west (U.S. 27) but you can’t go far east, for it dead ends.  You can only go in and out from the direction you came in.  It’s pretty funny.  We humans think when we’re lost, that if we keep going, we’ll come to somewhere else.  The last thing we think of is turning around and going back the way we came.

Because of its isolation, I’ve learned that many long-time residents of the area don’t even know my neighborhood exists.  Those who do, know you can’t get anywhere from here.    So it’s like a secret garden.  There is almost no traffic or noise.

Just to the left of center in the picture, you will see my tiny picnic table, which will comfortably accomodate two people, and in a pinch, four.  But mostly it’s just me–reading and thinking.  I have most of my best National Geographic moments here, all of which are not welcome.  Especially when insects are involved. I searched forever online for this table, because my primary requirement was that it have separate benches.  You can’t imagine how difficult that was to find.  I finally found, and ordered, this one from British Columbia.  I dread the day when it fails, because wood does not last forever.  Last year a carpenter bee drilled a hole in the end of the table and made it her home.  That was…Not Fun.  So natural weathering is not all there is to worry about.

Last week I had two National Geographic moments.  I went out and heard some kind of bird calling that I’d never heard before.  It sounded like somebody was strangling a baby duck.  Then, there was another.  Because the trees are so tall, I usually can’t see the birds, I can only hear them.  I finally decided they were baby hawks, practicing talking to each other.

The final NGM was, a kerfuffle developed almost right in front of me.  In the summer, I have a profusion of shrubs and vines that the Cardinals love to nest in.  The kerfuffle was a fight between a squirrel and a female Cardinal.  The only thing I could think of was that the squirrel was after the Cardinal’s eggs.  But squirrels eat bird eggs? (Yes.)  And wait again…I thought birds only had baby birds in the spring.  (No.  Cardinals have 3-4 broods per year.)  It turns out I was accidentally right.

But what a sight that was.  Initially there was a lot of rustling of leaves and squawks of various kinds, but it was all hidden from view.  Eventually the squirrel retreated, though not far, to a small branch right above the shrub, where he or she chattered quite aggressively.  Then the Cardinal emerged and hovered in the air, madly flapping her wings in his face and screaming.  She won.  The squirrel retreated further up the tree and gave up.  You go, Girl!

I guess it isn’t exactly like seeing a black rhino in the wild, or swimming with dolphins, but I long ago developed the ability to take great pleasure in small things.

One day I will have to give this up, because I simply won’t be able to afford it any more.  I hope that’s a long time coming.  In the meantime, I intend to etch it in my memory and wring every possible moment of joy from it that I can.

NOT Reading With Fakename

Last night I decided that if aliens were studying our planet, they would peg me as a member of the Reader Class.  It must sound like all I ever do is read.

But this is not true.  I have a real name too.  (Which is, Phyllis.)  I have a job, which they not only expect me to show up to for a minimum of 40 hours a week, they expect me to perform actual work for them.  This involves abiding by rules and regulations and meeting deadlines.  Deadlines!  Can you believe it?  My reward for doing this is that they pay me actual money.  This allows me to do other things I like better, like eat.

I have the usual complaints people have about work.  My boss is a jerk sometimes.  This rule is stupid. But I like my job, which makes up for a lot of the grief.

And my job is…being a manager.  Several pithy sayings come to mind here, like “Those who can’t do, teach” and “Jack of all trades, Master of none”.  I am always reminded of a card an employee once gave me for Bosses’ Day.  It said, How many bosses does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer, only one.  It takes two employees–one to hold the ladder and another to actually change the bulb, and one boss to tell them how to do it.

That same person also once gave me a card that showed what happens when the boss cleans off her desk.  First it shows the boss with a mountain of paper in her inbox.  Next picture, boss beaming with an empty inbox, and Administrative Assistant with a mountain of paper in hers.  See how easy that was?

So, I am a boss, and by the rules required of bosses, I can sometimes be a jerk, and I make stupid rules.  Whatcha gonna do?

It’s harder than it seems to be a boss.  And a lot of people are never successful at it, because they want to do “it” personally, whatever “it” is.  Because they can do “it” better….This is absolutely one of the worst mistakes a manager can make.  Eventually you look around and you have…no employees.  And you are doing everything yourself.  Everything.  And you will fail.

So my “job” is coaching.  And my most important function is listening.  Which often is easier said than done.  People bring different things to the job.  They have different and often competing needs, and it’s my job to listen to all of them.  Within limits.  I thought I would go nuts on Friday talking to the security supervisor about this “concern” he has.  Once, my assistant manager brought an employee “concern” to me–which had to do with a conflict between her and another employee.  I said, “We are not their parents.  These people are adults and will have to work it out.  If the conflict begins to disrupt our work, then I will intervene, but other than that…Next issue?”

But other than work, I also have two dogs and a cat, a car and a house with a yard, all of which require varying levels of care and feeding.

Besides reading, I also watch TV, and for the last two weeks I’ve watched a lot of the Olympics.

I’d say I’m active in my community at a relatively low level.  I’m on the Board of Directors of two organizations, one of which is environmentally focused and the other is a business organization.  I’m a member of an ad hoc committee whose purpose is to review and make recommendations for the Animal Control ordinance for our county.  Recently I volunteered to participate in a series of stories our local newspaper will be doing in October about local survivors of breast cancer.  Now that is scary.  I wish I’d understood that there would be video involved for the online version of the paper 🙂  I don’t know yet how that will work out–I’m waiting for the reporter to call me to begin.

So you see–reading is not all that I do.  It’s just that reading is my…balance.  There is nothing I like better than sitting at the tiny picnic table in my back yard (which I ordered from British Columbia), and watching the incredible woods beyond my yard and listening to the birds.

Random Thoughts About Going on Vacation

It seems like forever.  Actually, it was 6 months ago.  How slowly time passes.

I have a swimsuit, which I look ridiculous in.  But who’s going to notice 🙂

I managed to dredge up a (clean) beach towel.

Since I’m going with two other friends, that means I have to have pajamas or something like them.  I won’t wear them to sleep, but I’ll put them on in the morning.  We will each have our own bedroom.

Note to self:  Among the T-shirts, don’t bring anything black.  (And a huge majority of my T-shirts are black.) Black absorbs heat.

I can’t find my really comfortable shorts.  I’ll buy some when I get there.  Too bad they don’t have a Target on this island.  (I don’t do Walmart–or K-Mart for that matter.)

My grocery shopping is done.  My plan is to cook exactly one meal–steaks on July 4th, with grilled asparagus, and whatever else.  And I’ll make popovers one morning.

St. George Island is only 80 miles from here.  It takes about 2 hours though, because you can only get there on little roads where you can’t go fast.  Not to mention one very scary road where the Gulf is more or less lapping at your tires.  So you would think that a place 2 hours from your house would not lead to excessive planning.  Well, that depends on how obsessive-compulsive you are.

I will worry until the last minute about what I forgot to bring.  This morning I had a moment of extreme panic because I thought I had lost my “list”.  You know, the All Important List.  And the two friends I’m going with will have forgotten some things too.  So we will have to stop along the way many times for gas, salt and pepper, and lip balm.  In other words, it will take us 4 hours.

I will only stop worrying when I am actually in the car and whatever I forgot won’t matter any more.  Then the only thing I have to fear after that  is crossing the 4-mile bridge onto the island. My only phobia, but it’s better as long as someone else is driving.  Especially if she is driving a honking big Ford Expedition, instead of a little baby Toyota.  We went once, when she was driving a Ford F-150, and she was literally fighting for control of the truck as we crossed the bridge.  If I’d been driving the baby Toyota, there is no doubt in my mind I would have been blown off.  I was trying to think of how I would explain that to my boss.  See, the reason I can’t come to work today is that the wind was blowing really hard.

But have no doubt–I will have a good time.  As soon as I quit worrying.   We’ll see ospreys, and pelicans, herons and egrets.  And I have a lot of books to take 🙂

Politically Incorrect: Cats and Songbirds

Yesterday, a friend of a friend on Facebook posted this article:

In case you’re too impatient to read it, the story is that a man in Oregon is suffering from one of the three forms of plague (who knew there were three kinds?), the fifth case in Oregon since 1995.  This occurred after the man was bitten by a feral cat while trying to take a mouse away from it.  The FOF’s comment was, not to mention that cats kill 500,000 songbirds a year.

I instantly jumped to the concept of, what sane person would try to take a mouse away from a feral cat?

Let’s go back to the 500,000 songbirds a year.  Is that in Oregon?  Is that nationwide?  Or is that worldwide?  And is that even true?  Who said so?

Last week, I heard a story on NPR about migrating songbirds becoming confused by the flashing red lights on TV and cell phone towers.  Sometimes they die by the thousands, especially in bad weather, in a single night. They become disoriented and fly until they exhaust themselves or start running into each other.  Then they either drop to the ground and die of exhaustion and stress, or are picked off by predators.  I knew this already, but the new thing is that the FCC has determined that solid red lights (which don’t seem to bother the birds nearly as much) are completely sufficient to warn pilots of towers.  They are not requiring the removal of existing ones, but requiring that future towers be built without flashing lights.  My conclusion is that people are more dangerous to birds than cats are.  Think Silent Spring.

In about forty-three years of owning cats, I’ve had ONE cat who killed ONE bird, and that was more or less by accident.  I figure that any bird who allows itself to be killed by a cat deserves to be chopped from the gene pool.  Birds have a major advantage.  They can fly.  A cat who kills a bird did the bird species a favor.  It’s like catching fish.  You only ever get the slow and dumb ones.

In that same forty-three years, I have never kept a cat inside.  I’ve had cats who roamed, and cats who could barely be coaxed to go outside.  But it would take a heap of cats a heap of years to kill half a million songbirds.  And then they could write Shakespeare too, given half a million typewriters.

One of my friends commented  that anyone who lets a cat outside should at least bell it.  I actually tried that once, and it was horrible.  The cat was so terrified by the bell that it wouldn’t move and practically clawed itself to death trying to get the bell off.  If a bird can’t detect a cat, a bell isn’t going to help anyway.

I think it’s just the way nature works.  It’s ugly and bloody, but everybody has to eat.  We kill millions of cows every year but we do it in a “civilized” way, so that we can avoid the blood and gore and get cow parts in a shrink-wrapped package from the grocery store.

These days it seems like having a cat carries some sort of special responsibility to the Planet.  I object to that.

More About Nature from Fakename’s Back Yard

I’ve mentioned before that just about every morning, the little singing birds will go deathly silent, and you can hear a hawk calling from a treetop.  In my case, it has to be either a red-shouldered hawk or a Cooper’s hawk.  The problem is, they don’t sound quite right.  I’ve listened to their calls on Cornell’s website, and my “hawk” doesn’t sound remotely like either of them.  That’s because it isn’t a hawk, it’s an eagle. 

And how do I know this?  TV.  (See, TV is good for something after all.)  Last weekend I watched an episode of “Human Planet” on The Discovery Channel.  This particular episode was about the Inuit.  (Each episode is about how humans survive the most inhospitable places on Earth.)  And this episode is not about “assimilated” Inuit, but about those who still live and hunt in a traditional way.  A lot of the program focused on diet, and was fairly repellent to those of us with urbanized sensitivities.  Their diet is all meat, and it’s raw.  This of course makes perfect sense.  Wood for a cooking fire, and fruits and vegetables, are non-existent in the Arctic. 

But one of the things they do is train eagles for hunting.  Who ever knew you could train an eagle?  So there was a scene where an eagle is sitting on a guy’s arm, and it’s calling.  It was like instant recognition.  THAT is the sound I’ve been hearing.  A hawk’s cry is very harsh and rough.  This was more like a chirping sound, more melodic. 

I’ve known there are eagles in my neighborhood, but I’ve always totally dismissed them as the source of the sound.  For one thing,  I’ve never known eagles to sit in trees and wait for prey.  From what I always understood and have seen, they fly amazingly high, get a panoramic view, and zero in on a target with uncanny accuracy from what seems like an impossible height.  But on the other hand, they do nest in trees.  There probably isn’t an eagle Rule that says, “Thou art permitted to sleep in a tree, but shalt not catch dinner from there.”  Also, eagles mostly seem to like small furry creatures, like rabbits and squirrels, rather than birds, and the main attraction in my back yard is the birdfeeder.  However, there is no shortage of rabbits and squirrels either. 

So there is no doubt in my mind that it’s an eagle.  I have yet to be able to spot it, but I know it’s there.  Like I say about National Geographic and the Discovery Channel…Day One:  Go Eagle!  Get that rabbit!  Day Two:  Run, little rabbit, run! 

While I may not have gotten it until now, the birds, the squirrels, and probably the rabbits certainly did.  Although I doubt they care what species it is–to them, it’s all death from the sky.

What a Week!

This week, beginning Monday, June 24th, would have been a good one for a Valium prescription. 

On Monday, I got the word that the biopsy I had was benign.  Note:  that isn’t the same thing as “negative”.  It was something, that something just wasn’t cancer.  As one of my friends said, champagne all around! 

Tuesday, in the context of the rest of the week, was a snoozer. 

Wednesday, the City Commission made it official:  my company has been awarded the contract for the next five years with five one-year options to keep doing what we’re doing.  I get to keep my job for 5-10 years, well, assuming I don’t do something to screw it up in the meantime. 

The next morning, an article came out in the newspaper headlined “First company to benefit from City’s local preference program is not local”.  Or something to that effect.  Here’s the deal:  in a bid process, local companies get extra points.  So to win, other companies must obtain higher scores in other areas to compensate.  I learned only through the article that this is a “pilot” program for one year, enacted by the City Commission.  (Aren’t we lucky that our contract came up for bid during this particular year?) I understand the rationale, and their hearts are in the right place, but there’s an extent to which they didn’t think it through.  Nevertheless, I’m not complaining. 

The article went on to say that my company is a national one headquartered elsewhere, with only a “branch” office located here.  They interviewed the City’s Director of Management and Administration (translation:  a demi-god.  The Mayor, the Commissioners, and the City Manager are the Olympians.  Below them are only a few people whose word is essentially law:  the City Attorney, the Treasurer, and the Director of DMA.)  In other words, if an issue reaches them and they make a decision, you can fight City Hall all you want, but you will lose.  Actually if you want to fight City Hall, your best bet is with the Commissioners and the Mayor, because they’re elected.  You may not think this is fair, or right, but it’s the way it is.  If you choose to ignore the way it is, then you will become Sisyphus, perpetually pushing that rock up the hill.  You should go sit down somewhere and have a beer, which you can cry into. 

So the Director of DMA said, we don’t care if they’re a national company.  We asked that they have a local office which has been established for at least six months prior to the bid; that they have a business license; and that they have full-time local employees.  They qualify.  Any more questions?  (Time to have that beer.)

My assistant manager asked, “Why is this news?”  It was on the “consent” agenda.  There was no discussion of it in the Commission meeting.  No dispute.  The Commission essentially rubber-stamped it.  So why would the newspaper waste space on it?  I said, You poor, deluded, naive, baby soul.  No, I did not say that really.  What I said was, items in the newspaper are generated by complaints; it’s similar to the way Animal Control works.  They aren’t out there cruising to find violations–they rely on citizens reporting violations.  There is no doubt in my mind that the company which came closest to us generated this.  They were smart enough to know they didn’t have a leg to stand on with the City, but thought they would get a little jab in on the way out.  You can’t really blame them.  (But it’s time for THEM to go have a beer.)

When I came home that same day, there had been an enormous deadfall in the back yard (there had been a thunderstorm during the day).  Oh no.  Yard Guy will not be able to simply hook this one to the back of his truck and haul it off. 

It ends just short of the birdfeeder.  Nature made a handy stepladder for the squirrels. 

BUT…that same evening, just before dark, I looked out the kitchen window and there was an enormous owl sitting on the birdfeeder pole.  It’s only the second time in my life I’ve ever seen an owl in the wild.  It turned out to be a barred owl. 

I tried to creep out so I could see it better without the window in between, but of course as soon as it saw me it flew away.  Majestic does not begin to describe it.  It looked like an airplane flying away.  They have wing spans of three to four feet.  I was in awe. 

So that’s what I mean about the Valium prescription.  In the space of four days, I went from euphoria to profound anxiety to great relief to Oh No! to awe.  Theoretically speaking, it seems like it would have been a great idea to mute the highs and cushion the lows.  But, I believe this is what we call “life”.  You don’t get to choose when it happens to you–it’s happening all the time.

SHIT! It’s Flying!

There are three things I’m known for in my work and social circles:  One, I drink milk with every meal.  I can be out for lunch with people I barely know, and when the server comes over and asks what you’ll have, whoever I’m with automatically says, “She’ll have milk”.

Two, I always have a book with me.  I’ve taught myself to read in five-minute increments, so you will never catch me in any kind of downtime not reading. 

Three, I carry an Ariat horse-grooming bag as a handbag.  My assistant manager refers to it as my “luggage”.  This is Fakesister’s fault.  Being the horse person of the family, she was the first to catch on to the trend of carrying these as handbags.  I have now spread the trend all over Tallahassee. 

Originally they were designed to carry all the stuff you might need to groom a horse, such as various-sized brushes and tools, and water bottles (horse grooming is thirsty work).  They are sturdy–made of canvas–but most importantly, they have POCKETS.  Women love pockets.  No more do you have to to paw through the debris in the bottom of your handbag, because your cell phone is in Pocket X and your lipstick is in Pocket Y. 

I was very amused by the fact that they are no longer marketed as horse-grooming bags…now they are called “carry-alls”.

So one day this week I arrived at work, set the Ariat bag down on a chair, and reached for something inside, whereupon a very small cockroach emerged and started crawling around the top edge. 

Now, a little scene-setting.  At that time of the morning, there are four other people in my office, which is in a big open fishbowl sort of area.  When I said “EEK! There’s a roach in my purse”, Ruben hops out of his chair and says, “I’ll get it!”  (Here is an employee I’m definitely keeping.  I’m thinking it’s time for a raise, even.) By the time he arrived with toilet paper as a weapon, the roach had crawled back in the bag.  So he started poking around, apologizing…I don’t mean to pry in your bag, he says.  Please don’t apologize, I replied.  I am right before dumping the entire contents on the floor. 

About that time, the roach emerges.  Ruben makes a grab for it, and… it flies away.  Whereupon, I said, as you might guess, SHIT!  IT’S FLYING! 

Now it’s not as if I’m a stranger to flying cockroaches. I lived in New Orleans, which has five species of giant cockroaches, at least one of which flies.  Cockroaches are to New Orleans what robins are to the rest of the world:  harbingers of spring.  But I’ve never seen a tiny cockroach fly.   I was totally in shock, and my heart was pounding. 

Enter Colleen, who says, “Ruben, there it is!  It landed on the back of YOUR chair!”  Ruben sneaks up on it, and catches it!  I thought that was totally amazing!  It’s like catching a housefly in flight.  Maybe he had already wounded it in his first attempt.  In any case, once the kill mission succeeded, the entire room erupts in laughter. 

Because I’m still standing by my desk in a state of paralysis.  My assistant manager is laughing so hard he has to put his head down on his desk.  I couldn’t help but see the humor myself:  Ms. In-Control is defeated by a baby cockroach.  Pretty soon we are all laughing hysterically. 

Once we came up for air, Colleen said, That is the first time I’ve ever heard you curse.  Since she’s been working for me for over a year, I thought, Dang!  My disguise is working perfectly! 

I have no idea where that roach came from.  I’m chalking it up to living in Florida, where sometimes you have to fight your way through a spider web to get out the front door.  Your cat drags home the occasional snake and lets it loose in the house (alive).  C’est la vie.  Probably they don’t have these problems in Alaska. 

In other (flying) animal news, my assistant manager received a complaint on Friday that a mockingbird was attacking our customers as they exited the elevator, and he needed to do something about it.  He said to me, How is this MY bird?  (I had to put my head on MY desk at that point.)  Nevertheless, being young enough and customer-service oriented enough that he felt he might possibly be able to control nature, he approached the city landscaping crew to ask if they could suggest anything.  They said, put up a sign saying “Beware of Bird”.  At this rate, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get my head OFF the desk.

Sleeping Late…and Mosquitoes

Sleeping late is a very hard thing to do around here.  First, the dogs wake up and start scratching and chewing on themselves in pursuit of imaginary fleas.  It’s the dog equivalent of having a cup of coffee.  Once they’re done, they want to go outside and are very insistent about it. 

But when the dogs wake up, the cat wakes up (she would be fine with sleeping late herself).  But once the cat wakes up, she remembers that she’s hungry and starts biting me.  I know.  It’s a miracle she’s still alive, since this happens before I personally have had a chance to scratch my imaginary fleas.  I mean, have a cup of coffee. 

And if that wasn’t enough, there are the birds.  Since I live on the very edge of an urban forest, I must have fifty gazillion species of birds here, all singing and chirping and calling and trilling to themselves and each other in the early morning.  But I’m like, could you shut the hell UP? 

But really, I love my birds, even though they refuse to adhere to my schedule.  And they do serve a very useful purpose.  They are like my fail-safe alarm clock.  If I wake up in the morning and the birds are singing, I know I’m late. 

So among the other insects I mentioned, Yard Guy and I discussed mosquitoes yesterday.  He said, do they bother you much?  I’m like, I guess you haven’t noticed the six empty cans of insect repellent sitting on my picnic table?  Yes, they bother me…all day, every day, assuming it’s warm enough for me to be at the picnic table. 

He said, they don’t bother me that much in the spring, just in the summer.  I said, that’s because you are moving around, mowing.  I am at the picnic table reading a book.  I’m just food waiting to happen.  I might as well put myself on a dinner plate and provide a napkin. 

I never, ever go out without insect repellent, but inevitably I forget to spray some exposed area and get nailed.  But mostly I am as religious about insect repellent as Fakesister is about sunblock. 

Which reminds me of the time that Fakesister and I went to Everglades National Park.  We attempted to walk to the water’s edge from our room at the lodge, and also tried to walk a trail, and were driven into hiding by the mosquitoes.  It’s quite indescribable.  They form great black clouds.  No amount of insect repellent will work…there are just too many of them. 

Sitting in the screened-in porch dining area of the lodge, you can see millions of them batting against the screens.  It’s like being in the middle of a science fiction movie.  I said, “It should have told me something when I saw those hats with mosquito veils in the gift shop”.