Behold the Beautiful Anhinga

Meet Mr. Anhinga. Sometimes he appears at the pond outside our apartment building. I felt lucky to snap this photo of him drying out his wings in the warm Florida sunshine. Some people consider him ugly. Do you?

I am attracted to the Anhinga because of his huge black wings. Notice how they glisten in the light. Here he strikes the perfect pose, and balances his wet, heavy, body on the pointy top of a cypress knee.

I shared this photo with two of my neighbors. One guy shook his head, “No, that’s a cormorant.”

My other neighbor, a fisherman, did not share my excitement. “Those birds are no good because they eat fish.”

The old saying is true. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” My neighbor’s comments motivated me to seek more information about this interesting creature.

First of all, the bird pictured above is definitely an Anhinga due to his long neck, dagger like beak, and long tail. A cormorant is much smaller and has a rounded beak. It doesn’t have silvery patches on its wings like the Anhinga.

However, my neighbor who fishes was correct. Anhingas are amazing predators and stab fresh water fish with their pointy beaks. After they harpoon their prey, they swallow it whole. These birds must have strong muscles in their throat to accomplish this feat.

The name Anhinga comes from the Tupi Indians in Brazil and means “devil bird.” (Apparently they had the same attitude as my fisherman neighbor.) Anhingas have several nicknames including darter, water turkey, and snakebird.

I understand the snakebird reference. When Anhingas swim they submerge most of their body, but raise their neck and head above the surface. I can see why someone might think they are a water snakes. And few people like snakes.

Although the Anhinga has webbed feet for paddling, the bird doesn’t have waterproof feathers. Its waterlogged feathers allow it to dive easily and search for underwater prey, such as fish and amphibians. Anhingas can stay underwater for substantial periods of time.

Anhingas need to dry out their wings between dives. Poor things, talk about body maintenance! They spend as much time out of the water as they do in the water. But they have an advantage of being able to fly. In fact they can soar through the sky and stretch out their wings in the shape of a cross. Perhaps their ability to fly can help them escape from their natural enemy, the alligator.

The Anhinga’s call sounds like a booming croak that reminds me of fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m thankful I’ve never heard one sing in our pond.

Do you remember the book “The Ugly Duckling,” by Hans Christian Anderson? There are advantages to being ugly:

″‘Oh,’ sighed the duckling, ‘how thankful I am for being so ugly; even a dog will not bite me.’ And so he lay quite still, while the shot rattled through the rushes, and gun after gun was fired over him.”

Unfortunately, my Anhinga will never change into a swan. I appreciate Mr. Anhinga for who he is. Maybe that’s because a poet can find beauty everywhere.

The Spark

Without fire, the giant sequoia cannot reproduce.

A tiny spark ignites

The forest floor ablaze

Red-hot flames surge upward

Heavens eclipsed by haze

Fire consumes the thicket

Exposing blackened earth

A perfect bed prepared

Awaiting the new birth 

Old sequoia smolders

Its pulse proceeds to pound

Dozens of roasted cones

Shed their seeds to the ground

Nature sings a melody

To the rhythm of the rain

In harmony the sunlight

Warms the wet terrain

Under the towering giants

 I marvel with surprise

Pushing up from the ashes

Tender seedlings rise.

The Right Prescription

You’ve been there…remember that day when you answered a call from your doctor and your heart skipped a beat? His or her voice sounded serious as he shared information from your recent lab test. Now you have a new condition, one you hadn’t hoped for.

A few months ago, I learned my earlier diagnosis of osteopenia had advanced to osteoporosis. I felt depressed. Here was one more reminder I am aging. When I met with my doctor in her office, she prescribed a new calcium supplement and a strict regimen of weight-bearing exercise. She emphasized the importance of walking 40 minutes a day, for five days a week. I like to walk. I just don’t like being told I must walk, for how long, and how often. I thought it would be impossible to discipline myself to that degree.

The Florida heat during the month of August was more than I could bear, so I walked indoors on a treadmill (I call it the dreadmill) for the first few weeks of my exercise program. Even though I listened to my favorite playlist, I found the activity boring. I counted the minutes until I ended each session.

By October, the weather cooled and I could comfortably walk outside. I am fortunate to live in an area with several large ponds. These wetlands provide a perfect habitat for my favorite tree, the cypress.

Whether I walk early morning, or late afternoon, I’ve discovered the light is remarkable for photographing the cypress trees. Some people aren’t aware of the fall season in Florida. During November and December, the needle-like cypress leaves change to burnt orange.

Since these trees are deciduous, they lose their leaves a short while later, similar to trees in northern forests.

There are two types of cypress trees. The bald cypress grows to a height of 150 feet. The pond cypress is smaller (80 feet tall). The trees I see on my walks are of pond cypress variety. The pond cypress are less likely to pop up “knees,” and when they do, the knees are much rounder and shorter.

A pond cypress tree in summer. Note the the “knees” in the foreground

The pond is home to a variety of wildlife. Ducks and squirrels feed on cypress seeds. The trees also provide branches for epiphytes (air plants) which produce fruit that birds enjoy. I marvel at the great white egret who adds to the beauty of the scene. I make a game of trying to see how quick I can snap a photo before the bird takes flight.

Many medicines have unpleasant side effects. But there is nothing unpleasant about my time spent near the pond. The experience always has the same side effect, an uplifted spirit. When I see the beauty of creation, I am reminded of our Creator. God designed the world and all living things within it. The cycles and the seasons of the year operate with precision.

Whenever I take my walks, I think, “This is my medicine. I’m following my doctor’s orders and enjoying nature at the same time. This isn’t so bad after all.”

I can’t appreciate the beauty of nature without giving praise to the one who made it. I love these lines from God is in the Small Stuff and it all Matters by Bruce and Stan.

When you see a beautiful painting, praise the artist. When you hear a beautiful song, praise the composer. When you experience beauty in nature, praise the Creator.”

I can’t say I’m thankful for my new diagnosis, but I am grateful for the right prescription to treat my condition physically and emotionally. Are you facing a condition whose treatment requires a lifestyle change? How successful have you been at making the necessary change? Think about turning an unpleasant exercise into one you enjoy by incorporating something you’re passionate about. You might find the right prescription.

A Christmas Story

A friend and I like to walk on the bike path which circles Lake Baldwin in Orlando. The strip of land between the lake and the path is a natural habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Bald eagles and coyotes are among the local residents and I am always on the lookout for photo opportunities.

One morning something seemed out of place in the green landscape. We stepped closer to see a small package wrapped in red paper nestled among the needles of a bushy pine. “I think this the beginning of something,” I chuckled to my friend. In addition to the package, a shiny piece of garland adorned one side of the tree. We agreed the decorations must be someone’s idea of a joke in order to tease passersby to add more ornaments.

A few days later I walked my usual route and noticed many more decorations on the tree. A red and green bow served as a tree topper and bright ribbons spiraled the limbs. Then I noticed a note at the base of the tree inviting the community to add more ornaments in memory of “Bob.”

The author of the note shared a few details about Bob’s life. He loved to walk the path around the lake and started the tradition of decorating the small tree in 2020. Sadly, two months later Bob died from Covid 19. His family wants to continue the tradition in his memory and refers to the evergreen as the Community Tree of Baldwin Park.

The note touched my heart. This was not a joke but a serious memorial to a husband and father I never knew. This humble tree is very different from all the glitz and glamor of the Christmas tree in the Neighborhood Center of Baldwin Park. I prefer Bob’s tree because it represents the people from all walks of life who frequent the bike trail.

I never knew Bob, but I have a feeling I would like him. We have a common bond. He loved nature, walking, and Christmas.

December is a bittersweet time for many folks. I pray the Community Tree comforts Bob’s family as this will be their first Christmas with out him. Tomorrow I think I’ll visit the tree again and if there’s any space left, add a small token to tell Bob’s family they are not alone.

Small Beginnings

Arise my barren cypress

Lift your branches high

winter days of darkness

Are now in short supply.

You endured the many trials

Which robbed you of your cheer

Stripped of all your beauty,

you’ve aged another year.

Time will soon restore

the lushness of your leaves

to dance above the riverbank

with every summer breeze.

Arise my barren cypress

Your future is not grim

For countless tiny buds

slumber on each limb.

Dear Readers, A quiet walk in nature often brings encouragement and inspiration to my heart. I have taken many photos of cypress trees, but I did not see the beauty of a barren tree until today. I was reminded that faith is being certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

The Captive

Wet flurries drift downward

commanded by the pull

of unyielding earth


the lacy flakes can go no farther.

In quiet submission

snowfall blankets each backyard

painting the world a wintry white.

Giggles break the silence.

The spotless snow…

trampled and squeezed,

rolled into a boulder—commissioned to support a body

pierced with two sticks

each limb raised skyward to flag down help.

Nearing completion, the frozen man

tries to ‘keep his head’ in this desperate situation.

There, above the false smile and carrot nose,

two pleading eyes

look for the sun’s redemption

and the day when all things become new.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for reading my blog this year. I wish you all a happy and healthy 2021. A new year when we finally escape the captivity of the Coronavirus pandemic. In many ways, I am like the snowman in this poem. Held captive by forces beyond my control. I look to Jesus for redemption and the day when we will all be free.

In Praise of the Lone Lantana

Behold the primeval forest

enduring the tests of time

sheltered under towering oaks

Life survives.

Defended by vast armies

of raised palmetto swords

shielded by a green stockade

Life grows.

A confident lantana

performs a solo act

arrayed in pink and yellow

Life creates.

As if on cue, a butterfly

flutters across the scene

to sip the sweet fresh nectar

Life thrives.

Lacy ferns sing anthems

in time with steady rain

in praise of the lone lantana,

Life rejoices.

Still Waters

Are you tired of sitting at home because of COVID-19? Are you ready to travel somewhere, anywhere?

Come with me on a journey. Although I’ve lived in my neighborhood for sixteen years, I didn’t really become acquainted with this pond until last week.

Beautiful, isn’t it? This view is very near my front door. On previous occasions, I was usually too busy to notice. Maybe I was walking Buddy, or riding my bike. Maybe I was getting the mail. I have to say, COVID-19 has forced me to pause and consider my immediate surroundings.

Our local stay-at-home order permits walking outdoors, but I wanted to keep my walk short (since I am recovering from a back injury). I discovered it takes twenty minutes to circle the pond. So let’s get started.

These bald cypress knees aren’t always visible. During the summer rainy season the roots of the tree are under water.

White ibis photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

The shallow water provides an ideal feeding ground for the white ibis. These birds use their long beaks to probe the soft mud in search of insects.

white egret

This spring the water is so low, little islands are rising. They make me think of continents pushing up out of the ocean. The islands attract snapping turtles who are eager to warm themselves in the sun. Soon after I took this photo, the egret perched itself upon the sandy mound to scan the water for its next meal.

This is the view from the western end of the pond. There have been years when the water recedes even more and the island becomes a land bridge.

Here is one of my favorite views. Standing in this spot I feel like I could be on a trail in some remote area, away from the confines of our Orlando neighborhood.

Unfortunately, my desire to walk closer to the water resulted in disaster. I picked up some dog poo-lution on my shoe. Lucky for you, a virtual trip doesn’t include this hazard of the trail.

Blue heron photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

As we near our starting point, we are delighted by the stately blue heron. During moments like these, I realize how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful place. My walks have provided me the opportunity to thank God for his love and care, even during this time of despair.

I’m reminded of Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside the still waters,

He restores my soul.

I hope our journey around the pond has helped you relax a little. True, the pandemic has taken much from our lives. I trust that in this season of loss, something will be gained. My walks around the pond have inspired me to remember how God still provides for each of us.

Have you experienced God’s provision during this season of loss? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Giving Thanks

Writers are always looking for inspiration. Like many people, I find inspiration in Scripture and nature. This month I decided to read a psalm every day and journal a few notes about each one. If I continue this habit I’ll finish the book of Psalms by the end of March. The chapters are short, poetic, and emotional. In many of the passages, David despairs about his enemies, but closes with a proclamation of faith in the power of God to help him. He thanks God for protection and provision. David often thanks God for simply being God.

Psalm 19 is one of my favorites. Here are the first several verses from the NIV:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,

like a champion rejoicing to run its course.

It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul.”

Wow! I hope this psalm blesses you as much it has blessed me. The heavens do declare the glory of God.  The stars do sing of his beauty and authority. The universal language spoken by his creation can be understood no matter what language someone speaks. I am humbled when I look at the work of his hands. It’s then that I’m reminded of how small I am and how much I need him.

The word holiday derives from “holy day.” A day set apart, not for the anticipation of Black Friday, but to give thanks to the one who set the planets in motion. Let’s remember to seek the giver of all things good.

The phrase “Happy Thanksgiving” is kind of an oxymoron. How can anyone give thanks and not be happy?

May your joy be full as you celebrate God’s goodness with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

Until next time…




Along the Cady Way Trail

Pushing on the pedals

Riding down the road

Wheels are spinning faster

Cares are letting go

I shiver in the shadows

Under live oak trees

Pendulums of Spanish moss

Swaying in the breeze

Riding through a clearing

Bright sun warms my face

Days are getting shorter

Time is hard to place

Autumn is a toddler

Playing guessing games

Silent when a stranger

Wants to know his name

Haven for the snowbirds

Flocking to the scene

Nature hums an endless song

In the key of green.

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