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A Cruel Joke of Nature

First of all fellow Floridians, do not fear. The sun is shining today and no hurricane warnings are upon us. But it’s August, and we all know the next two months can be dicey at times. Dangerous weather damages Florida communities every year. As an Orlando resident, I’m fortunate to live in an area that hasn’t experienced the wrath of very many  hurricanes. The worst storm I can remember happened in 2004 when Charley came through.

Still, I’m aware of the tough times communities encounter when their power is out for days. This poem, entitled A Cruel Joke of Nature is dedicated to you.

When Charley came to town

the city lost all power.

The stagnant, stifling air

Weighs heavy every hour.

Mornings with no coffee

No bacon, no warm toast.

Yet, inside the kitchen…

the smell of rotten roast.

The radio is silent.

My phone is out of juice.

The TV screen is blank

and Google sheds no truth.

I snuff the candles out

to rest upon my bed,

Swatting at mosquitos

Which whine around my head.

A Cruel Joke of Nature

this taunting serenade.

Escaping to the shower,

I think I’ve got it made.

My triumph is short-lived

Icy water hits my side

The bugs attack my legs

There’s nowhere left to hide.

Illuminated world

Advanced technology

Unequal to the storm

which brought me to my knees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain

Pikes Peak has inspired people for hundreds of years. I first learned about “America’s Mountain” after my mom and dad visited the summit forty years ago. I’ve always been curious about Pikes Peak, and wondered how it came to be so famous. My husband became interested as well, so we booked an excursion with Manitou Springs Adventures.

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Taking a jeep excursion is a great way to climb the mountain, especially since the Cog Railway is closed. Bear, our guide and driver, expertly maneuvered our jeep through all the twists an turns up thirty-eight miles of highway. My husband and I were free to enjoy the scenery while we sipped the complimentary bottled water and munched on trail mix. (Protein and water prevent altitude sickness.)  Throughout our drive, and during rest stops, Bear gave us plenty of time to take photos. His narration provided me with a plethora of info about Pikes Peak. For more information follow my links.

  • Pikes Peak stands at 14,115 feet. It ranks 31 among the tallest peaks of Colorado.
  • Zebulon Pike led the first American exploration to scale the mountain in 1806. Unfortunately, he never made it to the summit because he started in November. The harsh Colorado winter forced him to turn back.
  • Edwin James was the first American to reach the summit in the summer of 1820. Good planning, Ed. He called the mountain Pike’s Highest Peak out of respect for Zebulon. Eventually the name was shortened and the apostrophe dropped.
  • People can hike to the summit on the Barr Trail. It generally takes from eight to twelve hours to get to the top.

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  • The view from the summit is so spectacular it inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the song “America the Beautiful” in 1893.
  • The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is an annual high speed car race which began in 1916. This year Romain Damas broke the record by climbing 4,720 feet in under eight minutes. He drove an electrically powered vehicle manufactured by Volkswagon.

IMG_4354Several Big Foot sightings near Pikes Peak prompted the locals to post a sign on the highway warning visitors to be on the alert. At this pull-off Bear took our picture doing what he called “The Big Foot Shuffle.”

After we arrived at the summit, Bear gave us ample time to look around, take photos, and buy souvenirs at the gift shop. He bought donuts for all of us from the Summit House. Bakers use a special high-altitude formula to overcome the challenges of creating a cake donut at 14,000 feet. Served up warm and fresh, Pikes Peak donuts are a real treat. Since Bear drives two tours a day, he’s one of their best customers.

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Thanks for everything, Bear!

 

 

 

The Bird is the Word

Yes, that’s right, bird is the word for today. I used to underestimate birds. Maybe that’s because they’re so small and numerous. Oh, there’s another bird flying by… big deal. My ambivalent attitude ended when my husband started using a Nikon Coolpix Superzoom camera. Initially he bought it to photograph larger wildlife. But he needed some practice, so he started zooming in on birds. After all, birds are all around us.

Fast forward to our recent Colorado vacation. We attended our first bird watching event in Great Sand Dunes National Park. I discovered bird watching is a relaxing way to spend an hour or two. Of course, in order to see birds one needs to be an early riser, which might leave a few people out.

The main point of birdwatching is to identify birds. In order to accomplish this goal it’s important to pay attention and listen. Wow! Those two things might leave a few more people out. But if you challenge yourself to watch and listen at the same time here are the five elements necessary to identifying birds.

  1. Size
  2. Color (which includes individual markings)
  3. Habitat
  4. Flight pattern
  5. Song (when walking in a dense forest it’s hard to see birds in tall trees)

Resources are available to help anyone get started. Our guide recommended a book,  Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds, for either the Eastern U.S. or Western U.S. depending on your location. And as you can imagine, there are iPhone apps to help you learn the songs of birds. If you are interested read this review for more more information. Our guide recommended using bird call apps responsibly when you are in the field because they can disturb whatever birds might be in the vicinity.

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During our bird walk I learned to identify the call of a chickadee.

In addition to attending a bird watching walk, anyone can set up a bird feeder in their backyard to watch birds at home. During our trip to Colorado we saw numerous hummingbird feeders at restaurants and hotels. After several encounters, we identified different varieties of  hummingbirds and discovered some are very territorial. One kind, the Ruby-throated, hid in the bushes until the Broad-tail hummingbirds settled at the feeder. The Ruby-throated bird rushed out of its hiding place. It perched on top of the shepherd’s hook, then  buzzed all the other birds until it had the feeder all to itself.

Enjoy my video of the cut-throat competition among hummingbirds.

I must say my first attempt at making this video was cut short because one aggressive hummingbird buzzed me!

Bird watching is an educational family friendly activity. Now you know why the bird is the word. If you like birds check out my previous post Cardinal Virtues.

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Vernal Falls

Trudging up the mountainside

following the trail

Climbing high with every step

hope my feet don’t fail

Although the way is difficult,

the cool breeze is my coach.

The towering trees above me

applaud my slow approach.

 

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Now I’m getting closer

I hear the rushing roar

I smell the fragrance of the pines

My heart begins to soar.

The water is before me

It sprays against my face

A rainbow rises in the mist

to speak of heaven’s grace.

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Abundant life is here

Fresh green moss abounds

My weary spirit is revived

Ready to go back down.

 

Are You Focused on Achievement?

I’ve always been a goal driven person. I set expectations for myself and work hard even though I’m retired. Give me a block of time and I’ll fill it up. Yet, if you ask me what I’ve been doing often I can’t remember. I do know this; I haven’t cleaned house very much.

As you are probably already aware, I love to write. Even if I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. Building a following for this blog has been my passion. I believe it’s important to try  post something each week and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my stories. Many of my posts involve research, interviews, and digging through  personal photos. Now it’s July and the calendar is telling me its time to breathe in. Breathing in means taking time to seek inspiration.

Today I’m sharing a poem I wrote awhile back entitled Achievement.

Slick rock beneath my feet,

hands fixed on sympathetic boulders,

I fight to gain traction and climb.

My heart rate elevates with the altitude.

Gasping for breath,

I reach the summit and revel in my achievement.

The vista reveals a sandstone canyon.

A painter’s palette

of deep reds, tawny yellows, and burnt oranges fill the horizon.

Each layer of rock illustrates a chapter in “Earth’s Biography.”

Far below, the author continues to write.

the mighty Colorado River

snakes back and forth in a quest for sea level.

It too, pushes against obstacles,

but creates a masterpiece.

And I am silent.

 

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Dead Horse Point, Utah

I’m sure you agree that nothing man creates compares to the beauty of God’s creativity. Until next time…

 

 

 

Rescuing Big Cats

This summer my daughter Jenny invited me to visit  Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. I hesitated to go. After all, what would Buddy (our beagle) think? He and I share a common opinion; who needs cats anyway?

Jenny on the other hand, is the proud owner of two cats (the domesticated variety of course). In an effort to overcome my prejudice toward felines I joined her for a tour. In the process I gained respect for a cause I’d never really considered. Big Cat Rescue is a leader in the fight to stop the abandonment and abuse of exotic cats.

The main cause of exotic cat abandonment is the “pet trade.” This trade evolves around the misconception that big cat cubs make cute pets. People purchase lion, tiger, bobcat, leopard, or cougar kittens from breeders. The kittens are manageable for a year or two, but as they mature problems arise. Often the big cats only bond to one family member and are aggressive toward the rest of the family.

When the pet owners realize they can’t handle their “wild” cat who is growing bigger everyday, they may respond by chaining it up or housing it in a small cage. Eventually they might turn to Big Cat Rescue to take the animal off their hands. The sixty-seven acre property also houses big cats who have retired from performing acts, or were given up by roadside zoos.

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During our ninety minute guided tour I learned the sad story behind many of these beautiful animals. I met a tiger named Andy who arrived at BCR in 2016. Andy came from Serenity Springs, a zoo in Colorado which was closing its facility. The zoo was known for offering tiger cub petting sessions and used Andy to breed kittens.

I was impressed at the volunteer staff who work tirelessly to feed the cats and clean their living quarters. Although fenced for protection, each living space afforded plenty of room for the cats to roam. Andy’s living space included a large pool where he enjoyed a swim.

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Big Cat Rescue has its own animal hospital. A bobcat with numerous broken bones was discovered in Orlando laying by the side of the road on Christmas Day. She was taken to BCR and given the name Noel. BCR contacted a vet with the Tampa Humane Society who provided the necessary treatment. Noel spent six months recovering at BCR and was eventually released to live in the wild at Orlando Wetlands Park.

The Accidental Founding of BCR

Founder, Carole Baskin states, “I never set out to start a sanctuary. It happened partly by accident, then largely through a process of evolution.” Carole’s journey with exotic animals began at a llama auction in 1992. A man walked in seeking a home for a six month old bobcat on a leash.  Carole’s heart went out to the young bobcat. She named her Windsong and brought her home.

True to her natural instincts, Windsong only bonded with Carole. Her husband wanted his own bobcat kitten and the couple set off for Minnesota to buy one. They found a fur farm which sold a few bobcat kittens for pets, but slaughtered any they couldn’t sell to make money in the fur trade. Carole and her husband were outraged to realize the kittens might be slaughtered and bought all fifty-six! They loaded all the kittens in their vehicle and drove them to their home in Florida. It was difficult to care for the bobcats in their home, so Carole and her husband moved them to the property where BCR is presently located.

Carole admits she and her husband made a lot of mistakes. Although they were trying to save bobcats from destruction, the couple was actually supporting the pet trade by buying bobcats and reselling them as pets. Their interest in rescuing bobcats grew to include additional species. Like many in the big cat pet trade, Carole believed she was preserving endangered species. Over time she realized she was dooming the animals to a life of captivity and abuse. Although she thought she placed kittens in “good homes,” many were returned to BCR when they were no longer cute.

A New Purpose

Since 2004, BCR no longer breeds or buys big cats and is a non-profit organization. The mission statement of BCR is to give big cats the best care possible and educate the public on the plight of these animals so that someday there will be no need for a sanctuary to exist.Today Big Cat Rescue has become a voice in support of increased legislation to insure that lions, tigers, and other dangerous big cats do not live in abusive situations or threaten public safety. For more info go to this link. 

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After my tour I can say I have a real sense of appreciation for the work of Big Cat Rescue.  But rest assured Buddy, you are still number one with me.

 

 

 

 

Sweet Land of Liberty

Like many of you, I’ll celebrate Independence Day this week. When I think about America I value the foresight of those who preserved our national parks. I never tire of exploring the natural beauty of the western U.S. From the rain forests of Olympic to the rock formations of Canyonlands, each park preserves treasured natural landmarks for future generations.

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My reflections on America connect me to the pioneers who settled it. When I look at these wagons I imagine the creak of the wheels as they slowly rolled through the tall prairie grass. I think about the brave families ready to tackle anything life threw at them. Once they found a place they liked, the pioneers spent weeks chopping wood for the construction of their new home, usually a rustic one room cabin.

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Can you imagine a life working from sunrise to sunset to survive? This settler had to walk to a stream to get water. Somehow the land doesn’t look quite hospitable to farming. Maybe he had mining for gold on his mind.

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When I think about America I remember growing up in Ohio. I picture farmers plowing the land and producing a great harvest. I think of county fairs that celebrate the biggest pumpkins, best jars of jam, and beautiful patchwork quilts.

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As a student in Ohio I reaped the benefits of a good public education. I’m thankful for teachers who taught me how to read and write. I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend The Ohio State University.

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Go Bucks!

 

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My feelings of thankfulness take me to my present home in Orlando.  I picture the busy city streets.  I see the millions of ordinary people who do follow the traffic laws and I am amazed when I realize most Americans are just out there trying to do their best. I’m thankful for the workers who designed and built the roads we all drive on.

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A replica of the Mayflower, Plymouth Mass.

America began when a little group of Pilgrims sailed across the Atlantic in search of freedom to worship God. I marvel that the same freedom is available to me today. I have the freedom to travel where I want. I have choices about what I want to buy, eat, and wear. I appreciate the freedom to read what I want, and think what I want. As a child born in the 1950’s I have never experienced what it is like to live in a combat zone. Unlike many countries, no wars have been fought in my homeland during my lifetime. I have never known what it might be like to go hungry.

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When I think of Independence Day, I picture neighbors getting together for backyard barbecues and kids running three-legged races in the park.  I imagine bands playing patriotic music while I wipe the watermelon juice off my chin. When night falls I ooh and ah at spectacular fireworks.

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All of this is America to me. Happy Birthday America.