Nature

And as a housecrasher, he has really poor manners

We’ve just moved. We closed on a house last weekend, and we moved all our stuff over this weekend.  It’s a local move, but it’s a move from a two-bedroom flat to a three-bedroom house, so we’re very happy with it.

Today, in addition to Moving Day, was also Girl’s third birthday.

And it was the first match of the new season for Boy’s soccer team.  In fact, the movers were still bringing stuff into our house when it was time to leave for the match, so Lisa took him on her own while Girl and I hung out at the house.  After the movers finished and left, it was just the two of us.  She was in the basement watching TV while I was doing a little unpacking on one of the upper levels.

She came running up to me.  “There’s an alligator downstairs!  Dad, there’s an alligator downstairs!”

Of course my immediate assumption was that she was playing pretend, but I gave her a second glance when I realised how genuinely frightened she looked.  “Can you show me where the alligator is?” I asked.

She looked at me like I was a moron.  “No.”

So I headed down to the basement.  And stopped at the top of the stairs, when I saw a little guy who looked very much like this on the bottom step.  Her alligator.

I went to get a couple of cups to trap and release the thing, but it had vanished by the time I got back–presumably into the AC vent that’s right next to where it was scurrying around.  So I told Girl it had gone, but she wouldn’t return to the basement without me holding her hand.  My luck, she’ll be the one who finds it again in three days.

I’d actually seen one of these lizards (very possibly the same one) crawling across our front doorstep last night, and I took note of it because I’ve lived on the banks of the Potomac River for eight years now, and this was the first time I’ve seen a lizard like that around here.  Like a little, creepy-crawly piece of Florida running around my yard.

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Tropical Storm Debby Downer

Tropical Storm Debby made landfall in Florida two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day we were driving from Myrtle Beach, SC, to my mother’s home in the Sunshine State.  We stopped off in Brunswick, Georgia, on the way to watch the England-Italy match, then got to Gainesville around 7p.m.  We’d been periodically touching base with my mother, who’d lost power for a couple of hours but then got it back.  She’d also seen some major flooding on her street, though by the end of the afternoon it had receded enough that she could once again make out the road surface beneath the water.

By the time we got to Gainesville, we’d decided just to knock out the last three hours of the drive and get to my mother’s that night.  But that was right when we encountered Debby, and after Lisa had to wade through two inches of water just to cross the single lane of parking lot separating our car from the restaurant where we were eating dinner at Butler Plaza, we decided to get a hotel and finish our journey the following morning.  I was also, by that point, getting some disheartening (and somewhat terrifying) tweets from Pinellas County people on my Twitter feed.

So around noon the next day we crossed the Howard Frankland into Pinellas County.  The rain had mostly let up by then, but the wind was still impressive enough that the waves from the bay were breaking over the concrete barriers to spill onto the edge of the road.

My mother lives on a barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast.  The driveways across the street from her were completely submerged.  That afternoon, Lisa, Boy and I went down to the beach, a block away, to have a look.

The beach was gone.

I knew intellectually that tourist beaches are artificially maintained, that sand has to be brought in to keep them up.  But I’ve never before seen a beach simply wiped away by nature.  We passed by the band of tall grasses that marks the start of the beach, and then the earth fell away vertically–so that the grasses’ roots were exposed–with water lapping at its base.

The water was still strong and choppy.  I waded out a few steps, and even with it still just around my calves, I could clearly feel the undertow.  We went along the beach a little, but had to turn back because the wind was picking at the sand.  We could actually see ribbons of sand undulating through the air just above the ground–I managed to catch a little of it on the video.  That sand was cutting into our forearms and our calves, and the pain was excruciating.  And that was even with the sand blowing so lightly that it didn’t leave a single mark on us–something which surprised me when I examined myself, to be honest.  I can’t imagine what a fullfledged sandstorm must be like; I now fully understand the idea of people being caught in storms like that having all their flesh etched away, leaving only bone.

 

 

So, much more eventful than if we hadn’t gone on holiday. I mean, here in Virginia, all they dealt with while we were gone was a sudden, devastating derecho.

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The todder and the wasp

Over the past few days, Girl has learnt most of her body parts, so this morning, when I had her stood up on her changing table, I was reviewing them with her. “Where’s your nose? Where’s your head? Where are your feet? Where’s your tummy?”

She got them all right, including one or two I didn’t know she’d know, so I said, “High five!” and she gave me a high five with her hand at shoulder height.

Then, out of the blue, she held her hand up for a successive high five, stretching her arm as high above her head as she could reach.  “Up high!”

A few minutes later, as I was busily typing this adorable story to Diane over the Instant Messenger, Girl got up from where she was sitting playing with an annoying talking toy on the floor, ran over to me, and handed me a giant piece of carpet fuzz or something.

Absentmindedly, I took it from her and deposited it on the table next to me.

And at that point, noticed it was a wasp.

Like, an alive wasp.

I’m not going to lie.  There may have been a bit of screaming like a girl, and a bit of running across the living room flapping my hands in terror.  When I got back, the wasp was trying to climb inside my laptop by way of the USB port.  So I killed it dead.

I’m going with the theory that it came in when I told Boy off for standing with the front door open on the way out to school this morning.  Because the only alternatives I can think of are that we’ve had a wasp in our home all night, or that wasps have free access to our home.

So, when he held the door open this morning.

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Just keep watching

Via Tad Williams’s Facebook page. If you’re reading somewhere that doesn’t show the embedded video, you can find it at the original blog post.

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The Scholar and the Concubine
Words yesterday: 2092
Words total: 22,191

Time spent writing: 1.30-2.45; 8.30-11.30
Reason for stopping: End of chapter
Darling: That made me look at her closely, and I saw for the first time–perhaps it had only just become apparent; perhaps I had not noticed it until then–the sadness lurking in her eyes, the dullness of the light there.
Words that boggled Word: grey, pendulously, tailfin
New words today: slate, bulkhead, plume

Blue Ridge

The Blue Ridge Mountains

Lisa and me, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the backgroundThis weekend we drove up to a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Carolina to visit a smattering of my in-laws. We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to go, because starting Wednesday, Boy came down with a stomach bug that left him alternating between lying on the couch dozing, lying on the bed dozing, and vomiting, all day long. By the time we left Friday afternoon, the vomiting had petered out, and Boy was gutted at the prospect of not going. So we elected to go, and I’ve got to say, if you ever need to take your child on a road trip, do it when he’s just getting over a stomach bug–he slept for the entire nine hour drive.

All of nature is indescribably beautiful; I love looking at the world. Lisa and I have been wanting for the past few weeks to get out and go camping or hiking somewhere. And the Blue Ridge Mountains are such a perfect place for that.

Boy and Lisa with their umbrellasOn Saturday we went out for a little while. I was told we’d be driving out to a park and walking some trails, though in light of some of the membership of the group I was suspicious of how much walking we’d get to do. My suspicions got heightened when I saw the number of people heading out to the car wearing shorts and flipflops for a walk through the woods. And then, inevitably, it started raining as soon as we pulled into the parking area.

Nevertheless, we were determined to get at least a little walking in, and so we did–even if it was just about five hundred feet and then back again. We hiked up to the bridge over where a stream and some large rocks combined to make a series of very pretty cascades, and Lisa’s brother–who’s lost something like fifty pounds in the past few months–scaled down the hill to stand on the (probably dangerously slippery) rocks. Then we headed back to the car.

Boy and Lisa on the bridgeAnd really, it was for the best that we did, as a few minutes afterward, the heavens really opened up. The rainstorms that were in DC yesterday and Pennsylvania today? On Saturday they were in North Carolina, and they were much, much stronger–I’d have been really worried about getting washed away if we’d been out on the trails in that.

So we went driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we saw some beautiful, breathtaking views. The rain might have been bad for walking, and it made driving rather trickier, but it should did make the views even prettier.

All of us at a scenic overlook in VirginiaLisa’s godmother lives just a few miles away in Boone. Both Lisa and I were disappointed at how little time we spent on the trails, and Boy–despite being thoroughly exhausted from not having eaten anything–had a great time during the ten-minute walk. We’re definitely hoping to get back again pretty soon.

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Shanghai
Words last two days: 1008
Words total: 27,468

Time spent writing: Noon-4pm
Reason for stopping: End of chapter
Darling: “I was fourteen or fifteen by then, and enough of a woman that I could–” She gave me a significant look. “–that I could provide for myself using those qualities by which a woman can most easily earn what she needs to live on.”
New words today: princess, windowpanes

Cue Grieg’s "Morning" in the background

The West Berkshire countrysideIn order to be at St Pancras to catch our 9AM train to Paris, we had to leave my aunt’s house by 5.30, which meant we had to be up by 4.30. In England in June, that’s already comfortably after sunrise.

The thing that most surprised Lisa about England was how green the country is, how much of train trips or car trips across the country are spent trundling through patchwork fields of pastureland and bright blue or yellow flowers and country lanes. And at 5.30 that morning, when we set off through the West Berkshire countryside for the M4, we had those country lanes all to ourselves–apart from the English wildlife.

Lisa and I went to Paris alone, so Boy wasn’t in the car with us–just Lisa, my dad (driving) and me. So early in the morning, we all sat in semi-catatonic silence. A light mist wreathed its way across the field–the sort of weather that would get described as foggy in America. The roads in there are narrow enough that when two cars approach each other travelling in opposite directions, they have to slow down for caution as they drive past each other. They were bordered on either side by overgrown hedgerows that offered occasional glimpses of the meadows through which we drove.

Every turn around a blind corner would reveal, for just an instant, a cloyingly pastoral scene out of a Disney movie: rabbit, pheasant, hedgehog, all strolling or resting comfortably on the road surface. Of course, then they’d see our giant SUV bearing down on them at forty miles an hour, and they’d scatter into the bushes. One bird took off and hurtled down the road in the same direction we were travelling. Its speed matched ours perfectly, and riding behind it was like a shot of a jet fighter in a movie, watching it glide smoothly, yawing slowly from side to side, then after a few moments banked away across the fields. Around one corner, we came upon a fawn, which turned and bounded away from us, along the road for a few moments before hopping through a break in the hedgerows.

That same day, I travelled on a ninety-mile-an-hour train, I saw the palace at Versailles, I had a Royale with Cheese at a Paris McDonald’s, I encountered a ring of gypsy beggars, I made eye contact with a man urinating on the street, I ate at a cafe where the fizzy drinks cost more than the Heineken, and I walked four miles in 85-degree-heat with a six-months pregnant woman to get to our hotel(s). (See Two days in Paris.)

But those first thirty of minutes of that day? I shall never forget.

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Shanghai
Words last two days: 1100
Words total: 16,656

Time spent writing: 1pm-6pm
Reason for stopping: Quota
Darling: His lips thinned; I had asked a question he had long grown tired of answering.
Words that boggled Word: sepoy
New words today: reverie, companionable

Tree pattern baldness

The denuded treeOne day as I was walking along the pavement, carrying a full trashbag to our apartment complex’s dumpster, I heard a thin, distant cry: “Hi, dad!”

It was a spring day when the weather was pleasant enough that we had our windows open, and Boy, knowing I was taking the trash, had run to his bedroom window to wait for me to pass by. His bedroom window (soon, his and Girl’s bedroom window) is the only window in our flat that has any view of the street, and it’s a narrow, distant view, partially blocked by a tree.

Ever since then, whenever I’ve taken out the trash, I’ve always had to first open Boy’s window, so he can give me a shout when I pass by. It’s one of those fun little rituals with which toddlers fill their lives.

Boy at his windowOnly as spring turned into summer, we had a problem–that tree between his window and the street first blossomed, then after the blossoms fell, they left in their wake a thick growth of leaves, completely blocking his view. It got so that I would instead have to shout, “Hi Boy!” to let him know I had reached the point where he could shout back to me.

This afternoon I opened his window and took the trash out. Only as I was walking, I heard a shout: “Hi dad!” I turned and looked.

The leaves on the tree have gotten–thinner. More sparse. I have no idea why this is. It’s the middle of August, in the midst of the hottest run of weather we’ve had all year–though not so hot, and definitely not so dry, I’d expect it to start killing flora.

It just seems–odd to me.

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More "nature" creepiness on the balcony

Yesterday I was sitting on the balcony, not bothering anybody, eating lunch, when all of a sudden the air began filling with tiny little bugs–they looked like gnats, except they had four wings that, when they landed, closed into a sheath extending straight behind them.

There were just one or two at first. Then five or six. Then dozens. I’m lucky I was just about done with my lunch–one of them landed inside the surface of my glass, then couldn’t take off again when it got wet. They coated the screen window, and several managed to slip through the tiny space between the screen and the windowframe. I also had to stop them wiggling underneath the keys on my laptop’s keyboard.

Now, it was, I suppose, vaguely creepy that a swarm of them appeared out of nowhere. But it got really creepy when a significant minority of them started shedding their wings and turning into … ants. Honestly.

Then after about half an hour, they all just disappeared.

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The Bird (so far singular)

If I’d been thinking Man, this would make a cool blog post, rather than Okay, this is seriously creepy and I hope this thing doesn’t try to kill me, I’d have snapped a picture of the beast to go with this blog post. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

I had just walked out onto the balcony yesterday with a glass in hand and was about to sit down at my laptop when I heard a really loud fluttering of wings and looked up just in time to see the largest pigeon I have ever seen land on the railing not two feet away from me. And by large, I really do mean huge for a pigeon–seriously, about the size of a chicken. I took a step back and then turned back toward my chair, expecting the thing to realise that there was, you know, a 250-pound adult human walking around right here and for that to be enough to scare it off.

Except it didn’t. The bird just sat there, staring at me. I decided that the best thing for me to do right now would be to go inside, expecting it to leave in a few minutes.

But it didn’t leave. It just remained perched on the railing. At one point it grunted a few times, then shat on the balcony. The bird had brown feathers and, I noticed, a blue tag on its ankle (possibly why it wasn’t scared of a human being). I decided to shut the window, which I keep open when I’m out on the balcony during Boy’s nap so I can hear if he starts crying or shouting for me. I wasn’t comfortable with the bird out there with my unattended laptop and chair, and after I while I went out and quickly brought them in.

Shortly after I did that I was very glad I’d closed the window, as the bird flew straight at it, turning back around and perching on the railing once more once he’d come into contact with the glass. It then descended to the balcony floor and began prowling around, inspecting Boy’s bicycle and toy ride-on aeroplane.

It then came over to the balcony door (which is glass) and pecked at it several times in an attempt to get in. Next it flew at the window again, grabbing onto the mosquito screen with its talons while flapping its wings to keep itself from falling off. When this still failed to get it into our apartment it returned to the balcony floor. After a while it hopped up onto the table, and I was glad I’d brought the computer in.

It now began making a slow, imperial circuit around the balcony floor and table, repeating this several times before hopping over the railing and descending to the ground below. I last saw it prowling slowly along the narrow dirt path that runs between the back of our building and the wooded slope below it.

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Pastorale

All nature is breathtakingly beautiful, but I really think it’s rarely as beautiful as rolling winter woodland early in a thaw. The forest of bare, stark trunks and branches, broken by the occasional frost-laden fir. Sparkling droplets of water beading along the tips of spidery twigs. A lattice of snow blanketing the ground, broken by patches of black earth, green grass or grey, upthrust rock. A small of stream of snowmelt burbling down the hillside.

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A Traitor's Loyalty Cover

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