“It’s dead,” I told myself. Bottle flies hovered like ants sniffing out a picnic. The body lay in the gravel road about a third of the way from the house on the way to the gate. It was late yesterday afternoon and I was making a quick run before supper time. “It’s definitely dead,” I muttered. But I couldn’t make myself walk around it and instead ran all the way back to the house like a little kid calling for Daddy.

Buck and I slow-jogged together back to the big eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

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That so powerful a creature would meet its demise by stretching out on a little-traveled private gravel road on a sunny morning and being run over by a car, probably the big black sedan I was driving on my way to the grocery store, seems absurd.

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Six rattles and a button.

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When I consider walking to the gate again this morning, I try to remember that this snake and its brethren  have most likely been watching my steps for years; that they have no interest in me.

IMG_4150I’ve watched this cluster of magnolias since it was barely more than a group of green stems; removed off-shoots that could weaken the central core as it grew; freed it of lower branches so it could rise skyward.Ultimately, two of the strongest shoots, perhaps through some internal DNA, decided to bond and make a tree. One day the space between the survivors will disappear; they will have grown together, fully merged into one grand, flowering tree.  Short of chopping it down, the cluster would have done what it did, become what it became, with our without my attempts to help it along. All I could do was worry over its future, smile at its progress, and be thrilled when a flower appeared.

How do we make it alone in the dark days of alienation that often swamp us in our mid-to-late-twenties, when we are vulnerable saplings whipped in winds that strip us bare and force us to bow down in drenching rains? When we know a window might be closing?

Her voice to my listening ear over a tenuous phone line late in the night: “I don’t think it will ever happen for me. I think I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.”

Knowing it was love that was the making of me and its earlier absence nearly my undoing, I prostrate myself, pound the heel of my hand softly into my forehead, whisper “Please,” and fret into the night as grandmothers do.

The Longleaf Bar and Grill, nickname of our home kitchen, is revivified now that all our taste buds are restored from last year’s adventures. Happiest times here are lunches with a daughter or granddaughter. We sit at the round table in the bar where we drink tea, eat composed salads,  and talk afternoons away. There is never enough time to get it all said, and isn’t that just the way it should be with folks who love one another?

Suppers are simple affairs, with piquant dishes flavored over bland these days.

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Catfish Veracruz (based on a Mayo Clinic recipe called Fish Veracruz)

Fresh ears of corn are back at our local Publix now. I’ve found the Florida Tasti-Lee organic tomatoes are astonishingly good. Pricey, but with the aroma, taste, and texture of a summer tomato. The salsa topping, full of peppers, onion, and garlic and sprinkled with fresh cilantro, is here. I found it in a Mayo Clinic Diet newsletter that appears once a week in my electronic inbox.

Visits to Joe Patti Seafood have become a regular run for Buck and me again. I made scampi-style shrimp with pasta a few days ago. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs on the first go-around, so last night we enjoyed another plate and polished it off. Full of tender crustaceans, garlic, cut peppers, and Italian parsley from my little herb garden under the outside stairs, it’s murmur-inducing fare.

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Scampi-style shrimp with pasta.

We saw whole red snappers and lovely pompano at Joe Patti’s last week and made plans to call ahead to order one to bake, probably with a light stuffing made from Blue Crab claw meat.

Life, as Buck and I savor our history, enjoy the moment, and plan our next move like children going to the fair, is spicy and sweet. I’m headed to the kitchen now to grind beans for a pot of Italian Roast coffee. It’s a drizzly Sunday morning, my favorite kind. Buck and I will share a late breakfast of whole grain waffles topped with dark sweet cherries and talk away the morning. And no,  we’ll never have enough time to get it all said, but how delicious to try.

It’s late April in the Longleaf woods of panhandle Florida. One day has the kind of crisp blue sky mornings that make you want to fling open all the doors and windows. Another, this morning for example, has you checking the calendar to see if maybe April morphed into August. Step outside and your hair begins to fatten and curl in the steam.

Buck and I are not the only critters in the woods contemplating new shelter. Wrens hop around under the cars and in the grass, snatching up shreds of nest-building material and chittering like garage-sale treasure hunters.

A resourceful gopher tortoise has repurposed an old slab of tin-covered wood into a roof for its den. It’s just out back a little ways from the fence. We can watch the tortoise emerge to graze on sunny afternoons. Two Sundays ago, a dry, bright day, he hung out on the “front porch” of his den for hours, not so different from the rest of us contented householders. P1010557 P1010555 P1010553 P1010552

I don’t know how a gopher tortoise processes information about the world. I wouldn’t imagine he chose this spot for a new den based on the idea that its tin roof would make a pleasant sound when it rains. Then again. I could swear I saw him smiling that Sunday afternoon.

AN AROMA LIKE PRISTINE OYSTERS, like fresh mushrooms, like longing, rises from the forest floor when the segmented shovel of Harvey’s track hoe bites into the soil. Fifty feet away, Mrs. Harvey sits, her bland, powdery pale face nearly invisible from the passenger side of Harvey’s white truck, hands out of sight but no doubt resting on the bible in her lap, King James version all the way.

Mrs. Harvey has a name of her own, something like Enid, but to Buck and me she has always been Mrs. Harvey, an ivory-haired presence from another century. Pleasant, slightly mysterious, calls everyone “dear.” I have heard she pastors a backwoods holy ghost fire church.

Mrs. Harvey never gets out of the truck. Sometimes I approach to pass the time of day, and feel her stir, the slow movement of her head toward me peculiarly intense. I feel half-naked when she looks at me. Is it because she wears long dresses with high necks, sleeves to the wrist, and hemlines to the ankle while I run around in track shorts and black t-shirts with an occasional nod to cold temps wearing one of Buck’s old Cabela’s olive-green zip-up sweat shirts? Or do I sense she wants to biopsy my soul with a snake-handler’s boldness that belies her cornflower blue print cotton dress and soft, plump hands?

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I AM LISTENING to an audio version of Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel, Outlander,  massive first novel of a series. It has been described as “genre-bending,” conflating elements of historical fiction, romance, fantasy and science-fiction. Gabaldon notes on her website that if you can read any three pages and then put it down she will give you a dollar.

 

“What I used to say to people who saw me sitting outside a store with a pile of books and asked (reasonably enough), “What sort of book is this?”, was, “I tell you what. Pick it up, open it anywhere, and read three pages.  If you can put it down again, I’ll pay you a dollar.” 

I’ve never lost any money on that bet.” (Diana Gabaldon)

 

 

I almost won that bet from her. Roughly two years ago, I downloaded the audio version of Outlander to which I am currently listening, tried several times to get through it,  and finally stopped trying. Despite Davina Porter’s fabulous voice, I quickly grew distracted with all the characters, the oddball story line of a 1946 setting devolving to 1743 after a nurse, Claire Randall, slips through an open door in time via a standing stone in the Scottish highlands, and there you are, smack dab in the middle of clans and castles. Not my usual cuppa.

Since then, I’ve learned that if I am to enjoy an audio novel, I have to give it the same serious attention — especially at the beginning — that I would a work I am reading. That is, yes, I may wash and slice strawberries while I listen ,however I cannot check out articles at the New York Times online or answer email. This may seem self-evident, but (sigh) I had to learn it for myself. Conversely, of course, the plain fact is that I cannot slice strawberries while reading without risking yet another trip to the emergency room after risky behavior with kitchen knives.

And so, armed with this newly found understanding, I decided to give Outlander another try. This time, it’s not only understandable, but fun. Frankly, I still can’t imagine reading the print version, but with the remarkable narrating prowess of Davina Porter, the story is a delight.

If you’d like to learn more about how the narration process works, here’s an enjoyable 2009 Ageless TV interview with Davina Porter and her husband, Gus. There are only some nods and no more than a word or two from Gus, but he makes a rather adorable sidekick with his good looks and mobile face.

One more note. Most writers have favorite words that creep into their manuscripts multiple times. Now that I have copy-edited a full novel manuscript (Buck’s), my ears prickle at these repeats, especially when they are somewhat unusual words. In Gabaldon’s Outlander, I have heard “declivity” and “exegesis” several times and, while I am only twelve hours into the thirty-three hour and eight minute listen, I expect to find these mellifluous words again. I don’t consider that a flaw, merely a sort of writer’s tell. I’m sure that some decade when I complete my own novel, I will have found a way to work the word ineluctable in there more than once.

 

 

 

Persistent little bird looking for an insect breakfast on the back and face of a whitetail doe in our backyard. I think it’s an Eastern Phoebe. The deer is a frequent visitor. She’s browsing for acorns on this thirty degree Florida panhandle morning.

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I hoped the deer and bird would move to the right, away from the fence, so I could get a better shot. By the time the doe was in the clear, the bird was in a nearby oak tree.

 

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I took these photos inside the house, from the laundry room window. The fluttery fan-like object on the side of the deer’s face is the little bird.

 

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