Thursday, January 31, 2013

Weather Like Grandma

I’m getting the hang of weather here. Tuesday night a powerful cold front roared in, bringing heavy rain. Its fierce wind blew all day Wednesday, nearly knocking me off my feet. But sometime in the night the storm blew itself out.

By this morning Nature’s tantrum was over and utter peace reigned. Water in the canals was glassy, reflecting perfectly the objects above it, even the far-off gibbous moon.

It is low tide now and the bay’s mud flats are teeming with birds having breakfast. Many gulls primarily, but also white ibis, blue herons, egrets and whimbrels.

This weather reminds me of my Irish grandmother, who occasionally threw an all-day fit of temper but woke the next morning sweet as pie.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, January 28, 2013

To Know A Place

My little house is on the Bay side of Galveston Island but the Gulf of Mexico is just two long blocks away. Its waters’ motion always provides a background noise that becomes a part of the hearer’s subconscious, so integrated into every moment as to be unnoticed.

Normally the Gulf is rather tame. The difference between high tide and low tide is negligible and the waves are barely big enough for boogie-boarding. Today is different, though. The Gulf waters are aroar, almost like the noise of a nearby freeway at rush hour.  The waves wouldn’t support surfboards, I think, but for the Gulf they are impressive.

No pelicans cruised for fish dinners. No sanderlings pecked in the sand for food as each wave receded. Silent gulls kept watch from pilings but didn’t fly. The surf piles seaweed all along the shore.

A warning is out for sea fog tonight and tomorrow morning, advising sailors that visibility will be less than one mile. Already the fog is gathering. The air is laden with moisture.

How long must one live in a place to begin to grasp the meaning of events like these? As an occasional visitor to the Island, I will never know this place as I know and understand our rural acres in Kansas, where I have lived for 37 years. Here, I can only observe, marvel and wonder.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Enemy within

Once again, I have been humbled by a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up. Life was smooth sailing for days on end but then the enemy within hit my ankle to remind me of my vulnerability and eventual mortality. The ankle swelled. It was red and hot with inflammation, too painful to bend or walk on.

Thankfully, my brother and sister-in-law were here to give support. Holmes cooked meals and Candace did laundry and washed dishes.

I gathered my small arsenal of anti-inflammatory weapons – ibuprofen and sage tea. Holmes recommended a product called Curamin, a compound containing curcumin for pain and boswellia for inflammation. We found some at the Peak Nutrition Center in Galveston. I elevated my ankle and used ice packs, twenty minutes on and twenty minutes off. To calm my fears I rested and read Wolf Hall.

Two days down the road I’m walking comfortably again for short periods. The swelling is almost gone. Holmes and Candace will leave for Missouri today and I will be on my own. If I’m careful I’ll soon be able to walk on the beach again with beauty all around me, but I must always be mindful of the enemy lurking within.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cold Frame Miracle

Our cold frame has been neglected for a month. We didn’t water the plants before we left Kansas, Nighttime temperatures fell into the single digits and the frames weren’t covered with their blankets. We imagined that the plants had become a blackened, dead mass.

Last weekend when Dennis returned to Kansas and his responsibilities at the university, he found, instead, that the arugula, spinach and lettuces were still alive. The lettuce and srugula were a bit wilted, but the spinach was perky.

The next day Dennis gave the plants a drink and harvested some lettuce for a BLT.

These plants were sown in late September and early October. They struggled to get going in the heat and drought. They have had hard lives, but persevere in spite of hardship. I consider this a miracle and look forward to fresh salads when I return to Kansas in late February.

We humans could take a lesson in hardiness from these plants.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fruit of The Sea

My dear brother Holmes went surf fishing two days ago and brought home eight nice whiting. He was cold from the water and wind, but beaming with pleasure.

That night we ate whiting fillets, dipped in beaten egg, breaded in cracker crumbs and pan-fried. Oh, they were tasty – tender, moist and sweet.

Last night the remaining filets went into a seafood gumbo, accompanied by some purchased shrimp from Alex’s Seafood Market in Pirates Beach. Holmes had made broth from the fish carcasses the day before. That served as the gumbo base.

I offered to make the roux. No iron skillet was available but I remembered that some people make roux in the microwave. Google came to my rescue with a plethora of instructions. Like many cooks, I read several and made an amalgam of them.

During the preparation I learned that it’s important to stir the flour and butter at two minute intervals, rather than letting it cook the entire six or seven minutes before stirring. I also learned that when following instructions for microwaved things, one should allow for differences in power. The microwave here is less powerful than I'm used to, so six minutes was not long enough, which was fortunate because that gave me an opportunity for frequent stirring.

When the roux was light mahogany in color, Holmes dumped the chopped onion, pepper and celery into the bowl. Just as if we had made the roux in an iron skillet, the vegetables sizzled and softened in the hot roux.

Holmes took it from there. It was mighty tasty.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, January 20, 2013

We Walk with Beauty

Yesterday Candace and I took a late afternoon beach walk under a beautiful sky. A flotilla of puffy little clouds came drifting from the west.

Soon the flotilla covered the sky overhead.

Back at the house I found the clouds reflected in the canal.

 Appropos of this evening the Navajo Night Chant came to mind.

Beauty before me, I walk with.
Beauty behind me, I walk with.
Beauty above me, I walk with.
Beauty below me, I walk with.
Beauty all around me, I walk with.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Afterlife

What would it be like, I wonder., this afterlife people talk about. Say a person gets to heaven, then what? Hang out all day chatting with friends and family? Wouldn’t we run out of topics of conversation? Eternity is a very long time. There would be no baking of bread or planting the garden or gathering eggs, none of the physical activities I enjoy.

I’m just not attracted to the idea, nor do I hope for it. Far more appealing is the idea that my body’s molecules will be reorganized into other things: a toad, a leaf, a chicken feather.

This idea certainly is not original. Montaigne phrased it quite well, I think, when he wrote, “Your death is part of the order of the universe, it is part of the life of the world.”

Sounds good to me. I've always liked the phrase, "gone to her eternal rest."

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Galveston Island Development

Once, long ago, Galveston Island was the home to a port, through which goods and immigrants passed. A town grew up around the port, but the bulk of the island was little else but scrubby growth, grasses and rattlesnakes. Well, birds lived here, too, and the pirate Jean LaFitte had his headquarters on the bay side of the island

Eventually someone decided the island would be a good place to graze cattle. When we first visited, several ranches lined the farm-to-market road that runs the length of the island. The cattle were accompanied by a flock of white egrets.

Now the ranches along this road have disappeared except for one. The remaining one is just a couple of miles from our house. This year, as in some previous years, a flock of sand hill cranes shares the pasture with cattle. The birds to not appear in this photo, but they were feeding nearby.

People began to build fishing shacks along the shore and gradually these were joined – and replaced – by larger beach houses. Most beachfront houses today are luxurious affairs like this.

Some take the Mediterranean style.

Each beachfront house has its private walkway over the dunes to the beach.

When the seaside was filled with houses, developers began to buy up ranches and turn them into housing lots, condominiums or resorts. This resort is far more extensive than the photo indicates. It alone takes up an entire former ranch.

This ranch has been transformed into a gated community. A sign declares that trespassers will be prosecuted.

Developers also seized upon the marshy bay side of the island, dredged canals to the bay and built houses of a more modest scale. We are living this winter on a confluence of two canals. This is the patriotic view toward the Gulf from our deck.

Being a country woman, I would have preferred the island before it filled up with houses, back when it was ranchland inhabited by rattlesnakes and prickly pear.

Nature, I’m sure, eventually with take it all back. Already there is an encouraging sign. When we checked into our rental house this winter we found this sign taped to the kitchen counter.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Worst Part of Being away from Home

I miss my handy laundry room and my roomy shower. I miss seeing my friends. I miss the grocery stores at home where I know the location of everything I need. But these are mere inconveniences, easily overcome.

What I really miss is saving kitchen scraps for our chickens. Today I made a pot of soup and ruefully threw the carrot and celery trimmings into the trash. This evening I made cole slaw and cornbread and had to throw away the trimmings and eggshell, both of which the chickens would love to eat.

Over several weeks time I will have wasted a lot of scraps. They will go to a dump rather into the best organic recycling method, chickens.

Moreover, we can’t find Galveston’s recycling center, so the amount of trash we are generating is excessive. I don’t feel extremely guilty because I have no alternative and this is temporary, but I deeply regret this waste.

Lots of people don’t recycle anything. Doesn’t it make them feel a little bit ashamed? 

Just to lighten things up a bit, here’s a photo of the smallest possible beach house.

Actually, I was delighted to find this little house. It stands in stark contrast to the McMansions that litter the landscape here. What is worse, no one lives in them. They are vacation homes, seldom used. They are another example of American excess and income inequality. I'll post some photos of them soon.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gray Day

The sun did not show its face today. Instead, persistent fog has grayed the sky and everything beneath it. In the bay nothing was happening.

On the beach I puzzled again about patterns in the sand. The dry sand is tan, but when the waves recede these wavy lines of black and white appear. Finally I realized that sand is made up of particles of many kinds of eroded rocks. As a wave recedes the black grains sink first, the white grains, weighing less, are carried a bit further toward the water and the tan grains stay put.

At the end of our beach walk I came upon a dead gull. It seemed still to be flying. Gray skies, gray water, and I mourned its passing.

This gray day will end with another crashing thunderstorm – a period at the end of a long, colorless sentence.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Friday, January 11, 2013

Where Have All The Seashells Gone?

The first time I came to Galveston Island, in 1990, the Gulf  deposited heaps of seashells at every ebbing tide. One day, when the tide was unusually low, I gathered a basketful of sand dollars from one of the offshore ridges. 

The next winter I returned to Galveston to await spring in Kansas. I collected hundreds of beautiful shells and created temporary shell arrangements on the kitchen countertop. For example, I found dozens of zigzag scallop shells ranging from tiny to large, and arranged them by size. All the light-colored spots in this photo, taken in 2000, are seashells.

Winter is supposed to be the great seashell season on Galveston Island, but today I see only bits and fragments of old shells, and few of those.

The broken zigzag scallop in the next photo is the only one I've seen this year. Its white companion may be a fragment of an ancient horse conch.

What has happened? I don’t’ know the cause, but I can think of three possibilities. The first possibility is Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which contaminated the Gulf with human waste of every kind. The second possibility is the BP oil well failure in 2011, which killed dolphins, sea turtles, fish and other marine life forms. The third is the increasing acidity of Earth’s ocean waters, which dissolves the calciferous shells, causing the death of the creatures that live in those shells.

I don’t need to collect seashells. I have several boxes of them at home. The beach, however, seems bare without them and I miss seeing them there.

Thankfully, the sea grass is returning to the beach, an assurance that some life forms go on.

Still, I worry about the health of our oceans.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Yesterday afternoon when Dennis walked Annie, they came upon a gathering of roseate spoonbills, white egrets and blue herons in the bay.

Suddenly all the birds took flight.

Last night the rain started in earnest. Rain has been falling all day. The water level is rising in the canals. Annie hides under the table, which protects her from the recurring thunder.

Rain, Rain, go away. Head north to Kansas where you will be loved.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How I Became A Country Woman

I wasn’t one to keep in touch with childhood and high school friends, but I’ve often thought of them and wondered where time has taken them.  Then, yesterday, I received a Facebook friend request from my childhood friend Yvonne.

Immediately I was flooded with memories of happy days and nights I spent at her family’s farm, where she and her three siblings lived with their parents and maternal grandmother.

The house was a traditional foursquare. It was heated by a huge wood-burning cook stove and, on special occasions, by another wood stove in the living room. Water came from a hand pump over a sink in the kitchen. The toilet was a privy behind the house. We ate supper by the light of kerosene lamps and carried a lamp upstairs when we went to bed.

I remember picking huckleberries at the woods's edge in summer and bathing in a big washtub on the back porch. I remember searching for eggs laid by their free-ranging chickens. I remember going to bed in the winter weighed down by several quilts and waking to windows heavy with frost from our breath. I remember the day Yvonne reached into the bin of chicken feed and was bitten on her finger by a mouse.

I loved everything about visiting Yvonne and never declined an invitation to spend the night. My dad was a farmer, too, but his farmhouse burned to the ground before he and my mother were married, so we lived in a bungalow in the nearby village. Although I went to our farm and played there, my only real experience of farm life was when I visited Yvonne.

Every detail of Yvonne's house is imprinted in my mind. Whenever I read a novel set in the country, that is the house I picture.

Today it dawned on me how my friendship with Yvonne evolved into my life dream of living in the country. Of course I don’t live as Yvonne and her family lived. I have every modern convenience I desire, but I also have a garden and chickens. I listen to the coyotes yipping at the full moon. Deer and wild turkeys frequent my front yard. I pick wild gooseberries and raspberries. I also have two kerosene lamps. They come in handy when the electricity fails.

One never knows how important friendships will be. I’m thankful Yvonne was, and is, my friend. Yes, of course, I accepted her invitation to be a Facebook friend.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, January 7, 2013

Beach Color

Ordinarily the beach is not a colorful place. Its beauty is subtle, not obvious. Although I remember well the first winter I spent in Galveston and the neon green and pink flip-flops that regularly appeared on the beach. Attached to them were little bi-valves that had absorbed the colors of the flip-flops. I’ve never seen them since and I’ve grown accustomed to the muted tans and grays in their various hues.

Setting out on a beach walk this afternoon I certainly wasn’t expecting to see an abstract painting of an exotic red fish.

It seemed to be red paper, washed and reformed by the motion of the Gulf waters.

Farther on I came upon a natural, not man-made, sand painting of green dots in the wet sand, finished with a sprinkle of dry sand.

This phenomenon continued and I discovered an intaglio of a tree swaying in the wind.

The colorful afternoon ended with a green and tan composition with generous touches of white and sparing touches of orange. 
Returning to the house I saw again, to my delight, a group of white ibis grazing in the vacant lot. This time I got a good shot of the long curved bill that enables the bird to plunge its beak deep to feed on creatures that live in sand and soil – worms, insects and amphibians.

Color is an important part of Nature’s beauty. Deer and many other creatures cannot see color, but humans can and I’m thankful for that ability.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Awakening from A Rain-Induced Coma

Rain started during the night before last and continued all of yesterday. I didn’t leave the house, but read another Tony Hillerman and started weaving a birthday bracelet for my Maine granddaughter.

This morning the clouds dissipated. The sun came out and the air warmed. We woke from our rain coma, put on our sunglasses and went to the beach.

When one first views a beach scene it seems to consist of little more than water and sand with occasional birds.

Walking along the wave-lapped shore one sees the scene in greater detail.  A white feather, partially buried in a rain-runoff sand sculpture…

A sea-washed weed sculpture…

A pelican, beautiful even in death.

"God is in the details," Mies van der Rohe said.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Seven Deadlies

For some reason, maybe because a new year is beginning, I’ve been thinking about the seven deadly sins and wondering exactly what they are and why they are deadly.

The seven deadlies were not part of my religious education. Instead we sang a lot about going to heaven and listened to sermons extolling the life of Jesus Christ. I always thought Jesus was a cool dude, going around in sandals telling people to live a simple life and be kind to one another. As I recall he didn’t have a whole lot to say about sin.

Today I looked up the deadlies. They are: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. Why are they mortal? Wikipedia says it is because “mortal or deadly sin is believed to destroy the life of grace destroy the life of grace and charity within a person …”1

The Navajo, I imagine, would say that these behaviors destroy one’s hozho, putting one out of harmony with reality.

I wonder what Epicurus would have to say about the deadlies. He lived long before Christianity came along, so he probably wouldn’t have the word “sin” in his vocabulary, but somehow I think he would agree with me. From my point of view, any one of the deadlies would disrupt a simple, pleasurable life. They would disturb the peace.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Home at Last

It’s all about creation and recreation. I always wondered why I was so drawn to recycling. Now I understand why: I am an Epicurean in the original sense of the word.

Epicurus, who lived 71 years and died in 270 BCE, has been grossly misinterpreted by Christianity, resulting in the current definition of the epicure as “one who is devoted to sensual pleasure” and “one with sensitive and discriminating tastes especially in food or wine.” Wrong, all wrong.

Epicureanism is a philosophy based on the writings of Epicurus, who believed that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desire.”1

Epicurus was also an atomic materialist. He believe that the universe is made only of atoms and space and that all the atoms are continually being reshuffled into new creations. It's the perfect philosophy for one who believes in recycling waste materials.

Knowing this, I feel that I have found my philosophical home. How did I learn it? Because Dennis and I have been discussing a book he is reading, Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt.

I can hardly wait to read it myself. Now I also want to read Lucretius' On The Nature of Things. Oh, boy! This is going to be fun.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Health and Prosperity

In the wee hours of the first day of 2013 a mighty clap of thunder shook the house. Rain poured in torrents on the roof, its drumming like music like music to people who have lived through two years of drought. Altogether, five inches of wonderful rain fell, perhaps portending drought relief beyond the island.

Later, in the afternoon, Dennis reported that a flock of white ibis was feeding in a neighborhood vacant lot. White ibis being another good omen, I rushed out with the camera. When I approached, the birds did not fly, but slowly walked away from me, foraging as they went. Consequently, most of my photos feature ibis butts, but I did get one that shows their long, curved bills. (Double-click the image to see more detail.)

Oddly, one long-billed curlew was feeding with them. It is the one dark bird in the photo.

The day ended with a fine supper of black-eyed peas, kale and cornbread.

Dick, who is a Texas native, tells me that each item on our menu has symbolism: the black-eyed peas represent coins, the greens represent folding money and the cornbread represents gold. All about wealth, but I have an additional interpretation: every dish is health-giving. Health and prosperity – that’s what I hope the year brings all of us.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer