Go to www.pdunningblog.com

Hey! If you’re still checking this site, you missed the boat some months ago. There’s nothing new here.

I’m now at http://www.pdunningblog.com  In a few weeks I’ll be posting there on this year’s trip south to Mexico. In the meantime, you can catch up with 8 months of musings on subjects from house-hunting to growing up worried to white poppies.

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Quick follow-up

When I directed you to my new blog yesterday, I had forgotten to include the option of following by email. I added it later in the day, but if you checked earlier, it was missing. If you want to receive email notifications of new posts, go back to pdunningblog.com and click the “follow by email” button at the upper right.

 

 

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Moving On…

As I hinted at in my last post, I’m beginning a new blog, one that will be exploring issues arising from our decision to move from the home we’ve lived in for 42 years. It’s not, of course, just about moving; we don’t yet know where we’ll go. The decision to move at this stage in our lives and after so many years raises larger questions about our relationship to time and place, about how those relationships affect the aging process, about whether to embrace or deny that process itself.

I will also use the blog to share some segments from my memoir, Shifting Currents, as they seem appropriate to the issues at hand. Maybe even sometimes if they don’t.

So–check it out at http://www.pdunningblog.com

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Home…

IMG_3253After nearly a week in Kitchener with Erica’s and Galen’s families, we arrived home two days ago.

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Home, to the ugliest season of the year—wet and brown, dirty clumps of still-melting snow here and there, and only a few hints of green leaves poking up from the ground.  April really is the cruelest month. Still, we’re glad to be here.

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And people here are just relieved that it’s no longer white. What a ferocious winter we missed this year. Even this morning, a friend of mine who lives on the other side of Sault Ste. Marie awoke to a skim of fresh snow, and another who lives half an hour further north, on the east shore of Lake Superior, says snow is still piled to the height of her deck. Last evening at my book club, I listened to tales of minus 25 Celsius day after day, of cutting winds making it feel much colder, of shoulder injuries and check-book shock from keeping driveways clear of snow. People who heat with wood were running out of firewood. Roads were closed more often than anyone can remember. The skiers and shoe-shoe enthusiasts had a wonderful time, but even they have had enough. I sense a lingering grumpiness here that needs to thaw along with the ground. But both will be thawing quickly now.

So, the “triptalk” is at an end for this year. But I am thinking about continuing the blog with a new focus and a new name. Stay tuned.

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Bird by bird

Tonight we’re somewhere in Alabama—it hardly matters where. We’re now driving north, backwards in time from summer to early spring. Lush greens in Louisiana giving way to a fresher, earlier-spring palate in Alabama.

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We spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday in New Orleans, where it poured rain the first evening and was cold and windy much the next day. But we had a nice time anyway, walking, eating, finding lots of things closed (it seems Tuesday’s the down-day there), listening to music in the park, spending a delightful couple of hours at the New Orleans Art Gallery, which has quite a fine collection.

But you can read about New Orleans in a tour book. I want to write about birds.

For some time now, I’ve thought about taking up birding—in a casual way. Some of the most interesting people I know are avid birders, but I can’t tell a sparrow from a wren. Last fall, when I wrote an essay referring to snowbirds, I realized I didn’t actually know what they were—confusing them with snow buntings. So why now, when my “life list” is bound to be short because—well, you know, life—and when my eyesight is compromised by slow-growing cataracts that refuse to justify surgery, but nevertheless obscure all sorts of small moving objects? Like birds.

The first objection is akin to many hesitations I’m determined to overcome. Sure, there’s less time than there used to be. But still, there’s all the time I’ve got. Why not learn a thing or two about birds? The eyesight—well, that’s more than a matter of attitude. But big birds are no problem; I’m good with pigeons and geese. I’m going to work on using binoculars. I’ve never had a good relationship with binoculars, but the other day I tried some that Jack bought a couple of years ago. They’re so much better than the ones I’ve been using that I’m going to adopt them and wear them around my neck when I’m out walking and hiking. And some day, surely, my eyes will deemed ready for cataract surgery.

Of course, these are late-life concerns. The main impediment has always been the same: the daunting prospect of learning about all those birds. Their names. Their sizes and colours and what kind of beaks they have and whether they perch in trees or hover in the grass.

IMG_2337A few days ago, walking along a boardwalk over a saltwater marsh in Port Aransas, Texas, I was struck by a  black bird with an orangey-red beak and brow, and green legs. I asked a woman standing nearby, and she identified it as a Gallinula—formerly known as a moorhen, she said, implying that “moorhen” might have become politically incorrect. (Wikipedia still calls it a moorhen.) I had just seen half a dozen different waterbirds, and felt overwhelmed by their numbers and their differences. Were they males and females of the same species? Different species? When is a duck not a duck? I knew the cormorants and the pelicans, of course, and I had no trouble identifying the cardinal perched in a tree along the walkway—who would? Why did this rather homely moorhen stand out?

That’s when the name of a book that’s been recommended to me more than once popped into my head. “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” It’s more the life part I’m thinking of at the moment. I understand that the author, Anne Lamott, chose this title after her son resisted a homework assignment on birds until the last minute, and then bemoaned the lack of time. Time is an issue even at eleven, it seems. His mother encouraged him to break it down into manageable pieces. “Bird by bird,” she said. “Just do it bird by bird.”

Looking at the moorhen aka Gallinula, I thought, yup. Bird by bird. This is the one I’m going to remember today.

IMG_2344The next day, it was a group of avocets, standing one-legged in the shallow water—a handsome group, again, identified by a friendly birder sharing the platform, who explained they might be arriving from farther south, or they might be year-round residents.

New2417b (1001 of 1)When I get home, I’m going to work on the wren/sparrow thing. And I think I’ll read Lamott’s book, though it’s not really about birds. Maybe I’ll even start a life list.

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Padre Island Fiasco

Apologies for the length of this post…it just all added up.

We should have listed to you, Stu. When I asked about the Gulf coast of Texas, you suggested Port Aransas, on the north end of North Padre Island. Before we left Guanajuato, we checked out a few hotels there, and they were either outrageously expensive or full-up. We looked at a map and decided maybe something closer to the National Seashore, on the south end of the island would be good. So we booked a room at Comfort Suites there. Mistake #1. The hotel was awful. But that’s a minor thing.

We checked in on Friday evening. Our room had a little balcony that looked across the street at the more luxurious Holiday Inn and the beach beyond. The beach itself—well, it’s hard to be critical of a beach. The sand was the softest and the whitest I’ve ever seen, and the water was wonderful, crashing waves, warm. But to get there, you had to make your way past the pick-up trucks parked just above the high-tide level. Apparently that’s the thing here: you drive onto the beach, plant a flag in the ground (a Texas flag, or a skull and crossbones), and turn up your radio. One of the biggest tourist attractions is renting four-wheelers and careening around on the sand.

So much for beaching it. Let’s check out the National Seashore, just a few miles south. We stopped at the gate, found it cost $10 to get into the park. One of the highlights of the national seashore, we were told—in addition to the migratory birds—is that you can drive your car along the beach. Wow. What we weren’t told was that the $10 would be good for seven days. If only we’d known—maybe we’d have gone in and driven up and down the beach. Instead, we saved our $10 fee for another day.

We’d seen some ads for kayaking. Now THAT sounded like fun. We’d get moving early on Saturday morning and drive to Port Aransas—just half an hour north–where apparently you could rent kayaks. And it might be a nice little town to explore. Nicer than where we were. We arrived, not quite sure where to go, but we saw a sign for a coastal research and visitors centre and figured that would be a good place to start. We wound through the little town until we found the centre—closed. Permanently, it seemed. Oh well. We also saw signs for a boardwalk for bird watching—which we found without any problem. This whole area is a great place for shore birds, though we’re too late for most of the migratory species. I’ve been thinking about birds and birders, but I will save these thoughts for a later post and hopefully include some photos. I was particularly taken with the moorhen, whose name I am determined to remember.

After the birds, we began to look for the kayak place in earnest. It was already mid morning. We had just a name and “Port Aransas”. We stopped at a touristy shop, thinking they might know where to go. They knew nothing; thought maybe they’d seen a kayak or two sometime. We found the address for a tourist information office. Surely they could help. But when we arrived, there was a sign in the window saying the office had moved to a new address. Neither we nor the GPS could find the new address. After half a dozen illegal u-turns, we gave up and stopped in a gelato and coffee shop for a late morning pick-me-up. There, we saw a sign for bird walks at the national seashore, daily, 9:30 am, until the end of April. Why had there been no notice of that where we were staying, just a few miles away? Tomorrow, we decided. For sure. A good way to start the day before moving on.

But today, the kayaking. I found a phone number and learned that the place was really in another little town, just a short ferry ride away. Another illegal u-turn, and onto the ferry. Within minutes, we were on the other side, facing a 3-mile long line-up of cars waiting to go where we had just been. Why?? And would we have to wait in that line to get back? No, said the GPS. There was a “long” way around.

We had the names of two kayak rental places. We found the first. Closed. We found the second. A really nice guy explained that we couldn’t kayak today because of a combination of a high pressure system and wind. Not enough water depth. By now, it was noon. He recommended a great place for lunch—so far, along with the bird sanctuary, the only success of the day.

He also explained that the long line-up of cars was to an annual sand sculpture event at Port Aransas. Now THAT could be fun. Surely the line would have cleared out by the time we finished our lunch, and we could check out the sand sculptures! After shrimp and crabcakes, we headed back to the ferry. The line had indeed shrunk; now it was only two miles long. Quick u-turn, and the long way around to our hotel. No sand sculpture. We arrived back at at 3:00, having spent most of a “non-travel” day in the car without doing much of anything.

We made our way past the pickup trucks to spread our towels on the beach and relaxed by the water for awhile. I got wet in the breakers, but the water was too rough to go far. We ended the day with a supper of cheese and crackers in our room and a long walk along the beach, where the trucks are clearing out for the day. Tomorrow would be better.

And so, this morning we got moving in time to take a short nature walk. An overcast morning, nice breeze. No birds or wildlife, but interesting vegetation—a place where desert and grasslands meet, I guess. I’ve seen lots of cactus and lots of grass, but this was the first time I’d seen them sharing space. Then on to the visitors centre.

“This is where the bird walk starts, right?”

“Yes ma’am. But there isn’t one today. The folks who lead it have left the park. Check out Bird Basin, on our way out of the park. Usually lots of birds there.”

Bzck into the car, off to Bird Basin, where we find a sign informing us we’d have to pay a second fee to get in. Forget it. We’d already paid $10 for nothing.

So. No coastal research centre. No Port Aransas Visitors Centre. No kayaking. No sand sculpture. No bird walk. No bird basin. A beach full of pick-up trucks. And five hours of driving without getting anywhere. Time to get off the island! But first, gas up. We pull into a gas station where none of the buttons on the tanks work, including the button that says that if none of the buttons work you should signal an attendant. While Jack is fussing with the gas, I go into the little store to buy a couple of bottles of wine. Oh—you can’t buy wine until after noon on Sundays in Texas.

Back in Corpus Christi, we found a bird sanctuary and boardwalk where we saw a great assortment of water birds—avocets (very neat), egrets, herons, plovers (we think), a variety of ducks, and in the bushes on the way to the shore, one loud cardinal.

Tonight we’re just into Louisiana. Tomorrow, probably New Orleans for 2 nights and then we’ll have to make tracks north in time for the Easter Bunny.

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Some thoughts on home

I said a quiet good-bye to Guanajuato early this morning, sitting on the bottom step of our callejon. I’d taken a garbage bag down to the dumpster and was waiting for Jack to come around with the car after locking up the house. This makes sense to people who know the city; people and cars take quite different routes.

The city was still dark and quiet. I passed one neighbour walking up the callejon as I walked down; he went into his house without acknowledging me, and I wondered if he was sneaking home after an illicit night out, or if perhaps he was getting home from working a night shift. One cab drove by while I waited on the step, and then Jack showed up, I jumped into the passenger seat, and we were on our way. Tonight, we’re in Laredo, Texas. It was a long day of driving, with plenty of time to think and talk about what it means to have two lives in two countries.

Sunrise over the mountains

Sunrise over the mountains

It’s something I think about a lot. I love my home. I’ve lived there for 40+ years. I have a history there, deep roots, and a network of friends and connections that define home for me. But, over the past decade, I’ve spent more and more time in my second home–Mexico–and this morning, sitting on that step, I felt an intense tug in both directions. I’ve come to love this place, the people here are becoming more important to me every year, and even though, after more than four months away, it’s time to go home, I’m not just leaving a winter get-away. I’m leaving–well–home.

An excess of blessings, so what’s my problem? Just that I haven’t figured out how to have it all. Every year, I sever my ties with home in Echo Bay for several months, and though I pretend that it doesn’t matter, that those ties are too strong to break, I sense them weakening. Every year when I return in the spring, I rush to tighten them. But I’ve missed another season of friendship and hardship and urgent debate about the crises of the moment, and you can’t get those back. I will never be entitled to wear a t-shirt that says “I survived the winter of 2014”!

But every year, too, I deepen my connections in Guanajuato, only to turn away after a few months, knowing that—as welcome as I feel, and as promising as these new friendships and connections are—I can never be fully part of a community when I just “drop in” for the winter.

Right now, I’m eager to be back home–in Echo Bay–looking forward to spring and to friends, gardens, walks along the river, days at the lake, book club, writers groups, grandkids, and the space I’ve created over 40 years–the things I turn my back on when I leave for the winter. For awhile, I’ll bask in the comfort and be convinced that I don’t want to continue with this split-in-half life. But by the time fall comes around, I’ll be thinking about Guanajuato, reluctant to leave one life but looking forward to the other–just as I was this morning–and wondering again if there’s any way I can manage to be two places at once.

On the way back to sea level--much warmer, much greener.

On the way back to sea level–much warmer, much greener, though still arid.

 

 

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