Month: May 2015

The Snowbirds Are Leaving!

It’s May and all the people from northern climates who spend the winter in Florida are on their way back home where they will enjoy cool breezes, refreshing lakes and lazy afternoons on their decks. My mood grew bleaker as one by one, our friends in the neighborhood stopped by to say goodbye before they left Florida for the summer. I wanted to leave with them. Then we decided to take the kayaks out for the first time in a long spell.

Thanks to my husband, we were on the water by 8:15 am (I am not a morning person) and paddling our kayaks through still water, a silence broken only by the music of birds singing. We followed a watery trail between mangroves and through the sturdy legs of a long bridge, its crisscross design duplicated in the water. My depression was vanquished. We made a promise to ourselves to do this at least once a week at an even earlier hour to miss the Florida summer heat – I will set the alarm!

Until last year, we belonged to the flock of snowbirds. We had a delightful summer home on a small lake not too far from Rochester, New York. For 15 years, we spent our summers watching the world go by from our deck which overlooked the lake. We did occasionally leave the deck to go fishing in our small boat, swimming in the lake, or to mow the lawn, pull weeds from the garden, wash bugs off the windows, plant flowers and vegetables, repair everything that had broken over the winter and shop for tools to do the repairs. So, another words, our time on the deck was a little limited. But, for the most part, it was enjoyable work.

However, getting to the lake home was another matter. First, I hate long car rides. If you don’t believe me, ask my poor, long-suffering husband who, for 13 years, had to put up with me whining and complaining for almost three days as we made our way north. The tedium of sitting hour after hour, watching the landscape rush past our windows was definitely not something I enjoyed. And then there was the cat!

Our cat, a tortoise shell named Spooky, dislikes long car rides even more than me. In addition, she has a tendency to bite if you pet her in the wrong places, such as her back or stomach. Spending three days in a car with a cat that not only bites, but really doesn’t want to be there in the first place was not at the top of my list.

In spite of this, I tried to make her comfortable. I arranged the carrier artfully between the two front seats, put a soft, inviting pillow on that space in-between the driver and passenger, and allowed her to come in and out of the carrier as the spirit moved her. Sometimes I feared for my life but, animal lover that I am, it didn’t occur to me to simply lock her in the carrier until the third day on the road. That’s when her mood would go from bad to vicious.

In spite of our bad tempered cat, we did arrive safely in both locations for all those years. And that part was great! The cool air was invigorating, the cottage charming as always, and the lake beautiful. We unpacked, checked out the yard and settled in for the summer. A big plus was seeing our old friends in Rochester. The summers seemed to whiz by and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and make the trip in reverse.

When we left Florida, our tasks included cleaning out the refrigerator, turning off the water, packing the clothes we were taking (I always had to mail at least three boxes), canceling newspapers and turning the thermostat to vacation settings. Leaving the lake for the winter was a whole other thing. We cleaned out the refrigerator and unplugged it, turned off the water, drained the tank, canceled all electricity and internet, brought the boat in for storage, made arrangements for the dock to come out and the grass to be mowed, covered all the furniture with sheets, cleaned out the flower pots and put them in the basement for the winter, etc. etc. etc. It usually took a week to pack up. When we finally got on the road, we were so exhausted we couldn’t open our mouths for at least 100 miles.

Finally, the trip became too much. In addition, the shallow lake developed blue-green algae that appeared earlier and earlier every summer. So we sold the cottage and made plans to spend our summers in Florida with a few trips on the side. Last summer was the first and, by July, I was depressed and mourning the cottage. We do have wonderful friends who are here all summer and that’s a major plus. But it’s still hard to see the houses in our neighborhood grow quiet. One friend called them “dead houses.” Another said she sometimes feels like the poor cousin who has to stay in in Florida for the summer.

However, there are also many positives about spending the summers in Florida. First and foremost, traffic on the roads is minimal; it takes half the time to drive anywhere. In the winter, we would plan an hour for a trip from our house near Anna Maria Island to Sarasota. Now that trip is 30 minutes – 40 to be certain. The theatres need patrons and tickets are frequently reduced. Stores advertise half off sales and discount racks of clothes double in quantity. Restaurants are also begging for our business and prices fall.

During the season, we avoid the beach which usually has no open parking spaces and is covered with blankets, umbrellas and sun bathers. Last summer, we began visiting the beach around 6:00 pm and found a sprinkling of people, delightfully warm bay water and very few menacing waves. We took walks along the water’s edge, I swam and then we settled on our folding chairs to watch the sunset.

The summer in Florida is also a good time for indoor projects. If you’re from the northern states you used the frigid winter weather for this purpose, but once you’ve managed to change your mindset to summer, you can get a lot done. The garage always needs cleaning, the linen closet is a disaster, the freezer has run out of space, and the kitchen cabinets are messy. Of course, I can always find something else to distract me from actual work, such as writing my blog!

And that’s what happened last summer. I was depressed, missing the cottage and the voices of neighbors who were gone for the summer. I had stopped writing and knew I needed a jolt to get my creative juices running again. So, with the assistance of my in-house computer expert – my husband – I started this blog. My mind was constantly running, toying with new ideas for the next blog and my fingers were busy tapping it out on the keyboard. And then, I was able to let the cottage disappear into the past.

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For The Birds

Every morning we prop the door open with a chair to let the cat go in and out for a couple of hours. We call this her exercise time and she is usually in and asleep under the bed before I remember to close the door. A couple of days ago, a very small bird got trapped in our lanai when the door was still open. The bird was very frightened and kept hitting the screen in its attempts to get out. Carefully I herded it towards the door until it found the open space and quickly disappeared from sight. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Although this was a very small bird (a sparrow? I’m not good at bird recognition), the Florida birds I’m most familiar with are the larger shore birds. We live next door to a wildlife preserve, 487 acres of inland waterways, walking and biking trails, native plants, small animals and birds which often make their way next door to our area. Every day, we can feast our eyes on blue herons, roseate spoonbills, white egrets, wood storks, ibises, ospreys, hawks, cormorants, pelicans and (sometimes) eagles resting on our lawns or fishing in our man-made lakes that are stocked with fish. When I walk in the late afternoon, I often take binoculars along to get a better view of the birds that are just out of eye sight. I never tire of watching them.

Birds have been in our life and even in our house since our middle daughter was in grade school and we were living in California. She fell in love with the smaller tropical birds that you see in pet shops. The first bird was a cockatiel that was hand raised and very tame. He loved to sit on heads and shoulders and once he chose to do this to a TV repairman just as he bent over the back of our TV set. I heard his scream from the other end of the house. I don’t know who was more frightened, the bird or the repairman.

Our daughter had two parakeets in a cage in her room. One, Marco, was very tame and could be let out for short periods. One day she called and asked me to bring the two birds to school for show and tell. Obediently I picked up the cage with the two birds and headed for the car. But when I placed them on the driveway to retrieve the car keys from my pocket, the cage door swung open and Marco flew the coop. Horrified, I watched him until he settled in a large tree by the corner of the house. I waited a few minutes, then decided I’d better take the remaining bird to school where our daughter was waiting,

At school, I handed her the cage, mumbling something about Marco’s absence. But after the show and tell was over, I knew I had to tell her the truth. She burst into tears and asked to go home to look for him.

When we returned to the house, I was surprised to find that Marco had remained in the tree but on a much higher branch. I pointed him out to our daughter and when I saw her sad face, I knew what I had to do. I retrieved the extra bird cage from the house and loaded it with bird seed. Then, cage in hand, I started to climb the tree. I’m no athlete and climbing trees was never something I did well (even in my prime) but I was determined. With help from a step ladder, I reached a V in the tree and when I looked up, I saw Marco watching my every move. Carefully I maneuvered to the next protruding branch and, when I looked down, I knew this was my limit.

I balanced the cage on a branch above me, door open and hoped the seed looked good to a hungry bird. Marco cocked his head, looked at the bird seed and looked at me. He hopped down to a closer branch. Fifteen minutes later, he came a bit closer. My legs were cramped, my back hurt and the ground was much too far away but my daughter’s tearful face at the bottom of the tree kept me going. Marco moved again, his eyes on the cage. Then – bang- he was in and I secured the cage door. My grateful daughter took the cage from me and I carefully made my way down the tree, very happy to feel the ground beneath my feet.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last bird escapade. About a year later, my daughter decided to raise finches to sell to pet stores. We constructed an aviary in the back yard and soon it was occupied by dozens of finches. But our building skills left something to be desired and a few weeks later, we discovered at least half the finches had escaped through an opening in the screen that had come loose over the door. The escapees were flying overhead and perching on top of the aviary. I remembered the method I had used to trap Marco and thought maybe it would work again.

I grabbed the old bird cage, filled it with seed and then surveyed the yard. There was no tree to climb but there was a small one to hide behind. I tied a fishing line to the cage door and left the cage in front of the tree. Then I released enough line to get me behind the tree. I kneeled down and pulled the line taught so the cage door was wide open.

It didn’t take long before the first finch hopped over to the door, enticed (I hoped) by the bird seed within. As soon as he hopped in, I let the fishing line go and the door swung shut. After I returned the finch to the aviary I repeated the exercise again and again, until we had most of the birds back in the aviary which, by now, had been patched up.

However, the birds were only part of the menagerie. We also had two dogs, a cat, a rabbit, two chickens and one duck. A friend of ours would bring his son to our house to visit because the child thought our yard was the zoo! And he might have been right.

When we moved from California to Syracuse, New York, the aviary had to go but the pet birds – one parakeet, one cockatiel and an African grey parrot – came with us, in addition to two dogs. We traveled by air to our new home and created quite a stir at baggage claim when the three crates holding the larger creatures rolled down the belt. I hand-carried the parakeet and cockatiel in a small cage. They, too, startled other passengers with their small vocabularies: hello, how are you, good-bye and cockadoodle-doo.

A year later, when my daughter left for college, we found a wonderful new home for the cockatiel and parakeet with a woman who had an equally tame female cockatiel. The last I heard both cockatiels spent most days riding on her shoulders and the parakeet followed close behind. The African grey parrot got sick and, when I learned that the veterinarian treating him had a room at home just for her parrots, I offered her ours in return for the bill. It was a win-win but most of all, I knew the parrot had a good home.

I’m very happy now to enjoy the birds in the wild and at a distance and to pet other people’s dogs when I pass them on the street. My husband and I presently have close contact with only one cat – she is more than enough to take care of (and sometimes, too much!). But the zoo years – along with our children’s childhoods -were precious and the memories will be there forever.