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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rock Dove

I must have been reading a magazine or washing my hair or inventorying ant beds each time this bird appeared; the i.d. book says he is common here, but until today I'd never set eyes on him. The Rock Dove is 11" of oak bark until he moves slightly and the sun glints neon on the dark gray hood that reaches to his shoulders. Against the limb of the oak tree he was nearly camouflaged, his dark gray head and neck flashing greens and purples, his dove gray back, white body, pink beak and feet, and his yellow eyes surprised me. I often see a more familiar pigeon, but this one, never before. He sat in the elbow of the oak's limb for a long time, occasionally snapping his head to one side, giving me long enough to go for the two bird books and my binoculars. I watched for an hour, and he never left the tree but, then, as I turned to put the books back, he spread his black-banded white wings and fluttered to the ground where last week I'd dropped some seed, sat there as though he might have decided to try nesting. A little while later I saw him stand up and toddle toward the river in the odd gait that must have inspired the descriptive label "pigeon-toed." Sort of a delicate waddle from side to side, looking like a wind-up toy.

I thought I'd seen the last of him, but ran downstairs and put out corn where he'd been and, an hour later, I saw him sitting on top of the pile of corn, not eating it, just claiming the spot. He didn't move when I walked toward, then away from him. At a distance he looked like a ceramic decoy, a perfect porcelain bird. The book says: "ROCK DOVE (domestic pigeon) Columba livia." This common, introduced pigeon of farmyards and city parks has a white rump and (except in white birds) a dark terminal tail band. Wing tips collide on takeoff. Glides with wings raised at an angle. Nests on buildings."

I hope our new Rock Dove breaks the rules. I hope he/she stays here in the country and eats piles of corn while he's sitting on it. He chose a good day to visit. I was outside doing nothing but admiring the cool breeze and the sunshine on the deck, all that green hanging over the river, loving the low humidity that's such a rare treat. This was the kind of day you memorize and, so, I have memorized the whole 11" of our Rock Dove. I want to learn more about him and the one photo I found doesn't look like what I saw.

In the garden, tomatoes and snapdragons are blooming and a long line of lettuces is fattening. Pink and red amarylis buds are opening. This year's wisteria is more lush than last year, but has no flowers. On the river bank, wild wisteria is blooming in fat corsage size clumps whose sweet scents drift all the way to the house.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Notes From 3 March Flight to Key West


The whirl and vibration of propellers, along with our pilot's emergency instructions, are a buzz behind my orange earplugs. This Beech 1900 is vulnerable, its skin no thicker than mine, the sheeting on its wings held together by rivets no more impressive than upholstery tacks. I am hungry, working on a headache.

We leave Gainesville, FL, headed toward “a bright sunny day of +80 degrees” in Key West." The vibration of the plane forgotten, I look down on three lakes, three more lakes, a boat trailing a white tail behind. The strips of floss below are roads between neatly combed woods I surmise are planted pine.

On my (road) map, Archer, Bronson, and Chunky Pond* show. We cross I-75, fly over cattle that glint like metal filings in squares of tan and mauve, then houses of hunter green, olive, khaki, and pink; some of the houses have very few trees. On the wing out my window, blue panels open; I wonder if those metal rivets could pop loose.

The many subdivisions we pass over are iconographic, elaborate patterns of red tile laid in mathematical precision, then interrupted by the scrimshaw of the Suwannee River, a black ribbon scrolling toward the Gulf. Already we are dropping to the southwest, to Tampa. No coffee or pretzels on this flight; below us, long lines of ants on the north and southbound lanes of I-75. A bit of turbulence.

As the pilot announces our landing at Tampa/St. Pete, I see that the gray areas surrounded by green are cypress forests and the coastline is bejeweled with houses. Ball fields, construction sites, the windows in those houses. I am praying for the pilot's loves, whatever they are. We have each done something dangerous today.

Change of planes and I am in the sky again. The Sunshine Skyway, a curved eyebrow above water, doesn't bother me; I was far more nervous driving it in a car .

Below me, a geometry incised, it appears, by someone with a very long tool; then deep water over bands of chartreuse, the grid again, blue sky, houses crowding the water's edge, cloverleafs. From another planet we may look like we know what we're doing.

Captiva and Sanibel, a palette of green, brown, and chartreuse, then mauve patches of differing shapes that remind me of frescoes on old walls, bison in the caves at Lascaux. All one gleaming, iconic loveliness and, though it's a worry, right now I can't condemn people with houses situated on
fill for wanting this beauty every single day. Below: water and boats gleam like dimes tossed into a North Florida spring.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Florida Voices, Florida Changes

A NOTE ABOUT THE BOOK: Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place has been nominated for the 2008 Lillian Smith Book Award.

Florida Voices, Florida Changes

"Glimpsed" is the operative word in the 1996 piece printed below. One almost must search for the landscapes known even fifty years ago. In my 2008 travels about Florida, I've been astounded by the numbers of new dwellings, the thousands of orange barriers lining miles of roads being reconstructed, the bridges, the tourist stops, the billboards.

I dug out this piece (see below) written a dozen years ago in order to compare how Florida seemed to me then versus how it seems in 2008 after visiting cities to the south and in the panhandle for book readings. In 1996, the state had 12,938 million residents and it now has in excess of 18,349 million; hurricanes George, Earl, Charly, Charlie, Francis, Ivan, Rita, Wilma, and the infamous Jeanne have borne down on us. In 1996 the state registered 129,000 housing starts and in 2006, we had 165,000. I first got interested in these statistics when I drove the Florida Turnpike for the first time since 1998. Florida is under far more of a strain than she was when this piece (see below) was written in a duplex on Terrace Street in Tallahassee where I lived for fall semester, 1996, before bolting to the woods in Hamilton County. I went back, of course, but eventually I was able to build here on the river where I might easily be accused of "hiding out." But now, because I've been traveling, I know what’s going on in the rest of the state and it’s startling.

This weekend I'll be at Debary Historic Site (10 a. m., Saturday, 12 April) where I hope to be involved in a spirited discussion of what's happening to Floridians, the place where they live, and what we can do about crowding.

One good thing: people are talking about Florida's environment, growth, development, and our future. More on this subject when I get back. Here's the 1996 piece:


Florida is now home to many peoples, but her earliest languages were spoken by the hunter-gatherer tribes of pre-history, the Apalachee, Yustega, Utina, Potano, Ocale, Tocobago, Ais, Calusa, and Tequesta. These were the Floridians who met those first explorer-conquerors of the New World. “La Florida,” the Spanish named it “land of flowers.”

These peoples ate clams, trout, and mullet. They wore blue beads and were of Asian descent, but they wrote no books and their voices were never taped. Decimated by European diseases to which they had no resistance, the first Floridians are found now only in the archaeological record and in the descriptions of European diarists. However, in the graffiti on a boarded-up wall at coastal Cedar Key, an anonymous author has given them voice:

Tall we were, splendor was in our persons, comely our women, our waters
bountiful. Life was joy in our cedar-scented islands under the cloud-drifted
sky. Then came the ugly pygmies with their bright hard shells and devil-stone
knives, their demon-driven vessels rising up from under the edge of the sea.
By pure evil they triumphed over us. The plague that spread from their souls’
sickness that robbed us of our children, that stole away our beauty, brought
us to an end . . . .

Despite theme parks and tourist beaches, the unspoiled Florida, the Florida of her first peoples, can still be glimpsed.

*Copyright Sudye Cauthen,15 July 1996

ENDNOTE: 10 April 2008 - Sunday at 2 p.m. I'll be at the Micanopy Public Library at the southern end of Alachua County, not all that far from Cross Creek where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote Cross Creek in which she said:

If there be such a thing as racial memory, the consciousness of land and water lie deeper in the core of us than any knowledge of our fellow beings. We were bred of the earth before we were born of our mothers. once born, we can live without mother or father, or any other kin, or any friend or any human love. We cannot live without the earth or apart from it, and something is shriveled in a man's heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.