A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

Leopard Correct 2

Leopard at Mala Mala

Nature has never been “my thing.” I’m more in tune with books and technology – a Kindle freak and a camera junkie. Our kids had the usual assortment of pets – from dogs and cats to rabbits and hamsters. Our family frequented zoos, of course, and even took a photographic safari to Mala Mala in Africa, but actually seeking out animals in the wild on my own was absolutely foreign to me. The closest I ever came to nature was when a wood duck plummeted down our fireplace chimney in Minnesota and had to be rescued.

Eventually we moved to Texas and I was forced to confront nature in the raw. When a wolf spider the size of my fist decided to explore my VW convertible, I exploded from the car screaming, “Ragno, Ragno –Aiuto! Aiuto!” I couldn’t think of “spider” or “help” in Spanish and reverted to Italian; the Hispanic groundskeepers at our office looked heavenward for spiritual succor and hastily backed away from the hysterical woman screaming in a foreign language!

At times baby copperheads slithered down the hall outside my office, fire ants found me particularly delectable, and once a Portuguese Man-o-War wrapped itself around my thigh at the Galveston beach. I learned to check out my surroundings in Texas.

But now I live in Southwest Florida. Sometimes when I sit on our lanai in the early morning, I feel as though I am channeling Walt Disney! As the sun brightens the treetops, baby bunnies and squirrels have been known to peer through the screen at me, owls hoot in the nearby nature preserve, anhingas pose on the creekbed rocks behind our condo and stretch their wings to dry. The setting is so idyllic that when I rouse myself to refill my coffee mug, I would not be surprised if bluebirds tied an apron around my waist and told Cinderella to get to work!

Not HONY, but AOSWF

Having lived mostly in “the North,” I am enamored by the Animals of Southwest Florida. My camera (a Nikon P600) has been key to helping me discover nature in detail. With its 60X optical zoom, I see things through the camera that I could never see otherwise. I love shelling at Barefoot Beach where osprey shelter their young 30 feet above me on nesting platforms.Osprey (Once a friend and I watched a young osprey learning to fly in fits and spurts; I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take pictures!) Sometimes I use the camera on my phone to photograph the shore birds as they snatch minnows and crabs in the ripples. Gopher tortoises poke their heads out of their burrows, then emerge to stroll to nearby grasses for a leisurely snack. Cranes, herons and pelicans eye fisherman and try to steal their bait.

Egrets fish and ibis grub in our back yard. Dolphins gambol in the wake of the pontoon boat ferrying us to an island beach, where even the jellyfish are Disney benign!Dolphin A couple of weeks ago, I saw the beach rangers  gently carrying platter-sized jelly fish from the shallows back into the waves. I could feel those burning man-o-war tentacles grasping my thigh as I remonstrated with the rangers – surely they should at least have gloves and shirts on their bare hands and arms! But, no, they patiently explained, these were moon jellies and not dangerous to humans.

Birds, dolphins, jellyfish were all good subjects, of course, but I was eager to photograph an alligator in the wild. Our neighbors regaled us with tales of eight foot gators sauntering down the road in front of our condo; but when pinned down, they confessed that it was five or six or maybe ten years ago – not recently. I went on lengthy walks, checked out ponds, looked in reeds for sleeping logs, but to no avail. The keepers at the Naples Zoo told us that alligators feed at night, that they were uninterested in humans unless someone had been foolish enough to feed them. Regretfully I concluded that gators were unlikely to be cruising my suburban neighborhood. I was ten years too late.

Call of the Wild

Our young grandson loves netting minnows in the creek behind our condo – hanging on to tree branches to get a longer reach into the brackish, murky water. Our son-in-law (he of intrepid driver fame in a previous blog) likes to cast for bass from the bank and has caught some big ones.

Late one afternoon I heard a call, “Cyndee, better get your camera!” I ran to the creek before the big one got away. A cast – SNAP! An unseen fish grabbed the shiny lure, then spit it back into the water! Another cast – another snap! Only this time the “fish” was visible – a log with sharp teeth, beady eyes and large nostrils. And it looked annoyed that the shiny lure was not a silvery bass!Alligator

I took lots of pictures of our creek visitor, but I confess that I am no longer quite so carefree about walking near the ponds and reeds looking for wild life in the neighborhood. I’ve photographed more gators lurking in the water and sunning themselves on the shore of the nature preserve during the day, but I remain reading my Kindle comfortably on the lanai at night. I’m still channeling Walt Disney, of course, but in the evening I’m more in tune with Peter Pan and the ticking croc, than with Cinderella and the bluebirds!

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Count to Ten

Our first trip abroad was funded by your tax dollars – and we are grateful!

Mt. Etna: with permission from Jackie Croft

Shortly after we were married, my husband Perk was assigned a three-year stint of shore duty at Sigonella, the US Naval Air Facility at the foot of Mount Etna near Catania, Sicily.This sojourn established how we would operate the rest of our lives – Perk plans and organizes, I live in the moment.

In preparation, Perk encouraged me to learn Italian; he suggested that we study together using books, tapes and recordings. I was a French major in college and  tired of an organized study of language. I liked to talk, to communicate. I figured that I could simply add an “a” to my French vocabulary, change the accent, gesture broadly, and I would have a reasonable chance of being understood.

Not being foolish, I learned a few key phrases that I knew would be vital. Perk studied – and as a navy disbursing officer, he focused on numbers, learning the currency and counting – and expected me to do the same. He worried about my lack of knowledge. How would I know how to count my change?

Dov’e la gabinetta?

After a fraught-filled trip to New York City (a blog adventure in itself!), we flew to Rome and transferred to the domestic airport. We were hot, tired and apprehensive when we finally settled at the gate. I left Perk with the bags and books, found a kiosk and directed one of my key phrases to the attendant, “Dov’e la gabinetta? Where is the ladies room?” (I had also learned directions – left, right and straight ahead so that I could actually find it!) My needs attended to, I returned to the gate.

Expecting a helpful reply, Perk asked, “Where is the bathroom?”

I retorted, “Too bad you don’t know how to ask. I guess you’ll have to cross your legs and count to ten!”

Cyndee’s Key Phrases to Learn

In addition to the phrase discussed above, memorize some language basics before traveling to a foreign shore:

  • Please and Thank You
  • Excuse me
  • Hello and Goodbye
  • Good morning, afternoon, evening
  • I am so sorry that I do not speak your language. Do you speak English?

And carry a small Berlitz language book so that you have polite phrases at your fingertips. After a few days abroad, the paperback will fall open to the oft-used page that says:

Can you spare a moment while I look up my question in this book?