Saturday, January 28, 2012

Do Alligators Dream?

"Over there on the opposite shore," our guide pointed the very few feet away as we tender morsels perched on our inadequate flotation devices in the largest airboat in Florida, "is Fred, our resident alligator."

Fred smiled. At least I think he did. It's hard to tell when alligators smile. It was daytime, warmer than usual for this time of year at Myakka State Park. Alligators snooze in the daytime, digesting what they've eaten in the night.

Myakka State Park 2012

"What do they eat?" the guide prompted us. "Anything that moves." We sat especially still, smiles frozen on our faces at the joke that was not a joke.

We were headed out on Myakka Lake to see more wildlife. Our cheerful guide went on to explain that there had been no officially documented alligator attacks at the lake, citing the lack of documentation provided by successful alligators. Those little keys on the computer are particularly difficult for 8-12 foot long reptiles who are, ok, let's just admit it here, illiterate. How would the alligator begin to report the attack? As a description of gourmet dining? Certainly the person involved would not report it.

'Wiggly, jiggly, with some crunchy parts marked 'Canon'. Thrashed a bit and made a fuss. Tastes a bit like the javelina although more tender once you get past the annoying textile coverings. Not a snack but a full meal. On the whole, however, I prefer the anhinga for its bite-sized portions.'

I doubted Fred was the food editor for the Myakka Alligator Herald somehow. I wondered what alligators dream of during the day. Food, I figure.

Fred continued to smile as we left the dock and moved out into the lake.

We begin now the Chinese year of the water dragon and it was not lost upon me that I was hoping for an alligator encounter of the photographic kind, only, at the Water Dragon time when Fred and his family are my closest representation.

My husband and I have traveled to Florida to spend time with his cousin Margaret and pursue wildlife photography. Margaret is the self-proclaimed family matriarch, formidable herself without the least bit of comparison to dragons or alligators. She has survived much in her life. She is deeply religious. She cooks killer breakfasts and dinners. She will pass on wildlife of any kind.

"I like people," Margaret says. "Is it so awful that I don't want to hear stories about your cat or dog?" Margaret does not come with us on our wildlife photography forays.

Florida is one of my favorite places to visit because of its natural beauty. True, my idea of nature and beauty is skewed because my childhood was spent there in the oaks, pines and palms, the veils of Spanish moss, the birdsong and abundant water. There seems to be less and less of the Florida I knew as a child since that joke about selling swampland in Florida for housing developments isn't really a joke. It's a good thing Margaret likes people. Good grief, they are everywhere! Little grey and white haired people having a wonderful time in their retirement in deed-restricted communities have taken over the swamplands with their houses and condos, many of them also lovers of the natural beauty of the place. But it's still not as crowded as California and the yards are often long, the yards uncurbed and rimned with sand, the driveways filled with fossil seashells dug from the interior quarries. It is still a place I love despite its changes.
Myakka Lake, Florida

I used up batteries and storage chips as we floated past the ibis, roseate spoonbill, bald eagle, pairs of sandhill crane, wood stork, pelicans, grebes, egrets both great and snowy, herons blue, tri-color and Great Blue. The wild boar, let loose by early settlers, rooted by the lakeshore while deer clung closer to the edges of the clearing. Another alligator, this one in the water, appeared. We circled it. It swam under us. We were properly horrified and fascinated at the same time. Towards sunset, all of us seemed to be looking for a drink. We putted back to our "crash landing" at the dock, Fred still in full snooze.

In the tarot, the Fool is without preconceived notions or plan. He is not particularly prepared for what's around the corner. His attention is likely on what is just under his nose and not necessarily what is just beyond his feet. There is information all around him. If he is fortunate, he learns something on his journey. If he is more fortunate, he has a helpful companion to warn him of danger and encourage him along the way. If he is even more fortunate, he experiences the terrible beauty of the world and all its wonders. He is subject to surprise.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I expected to see all the wonderful birds and hoped to photograph them. I had hoped for some alligator shots and was delighted when we had lots of opportunities. What I didn't expect was the warning handed out at the Myakka State Park entry.

Apparently, the black vultures (not the same bird as a turkey vulture with the red heads) are particularly fond of snacking on anything made of rubber particularly towards sunset. They eat your windshield wipers and edges around your car windows. The park cannot be responsible. They just want you to know.

We speculated on how we would word the insurance claim. We weren't sure our account and the warning provided by the park would be enough to explain the situation. I took a photo of the vultures waiting for sunset, perched in a tree, seemingly selecting their car from the shady parking lot. I felt vaguely like a dupe on a snipe hunt but animals do some pretty crazy things. They are almost as crazy as tourists.

Best wishes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Golden Handcuffs

We went to dinner with our friend Mr. Delinsky last Sunday. We went to a favorite hangout, Marin Joe's in Corte Madera. His name is Harold but I never call him anything other than Mr. Delinsky, even when I'm giving him a hug and a kiss and telling him we love him. We do. He's a little guy originally from the Bronx, thin with a hank of grey hair and an Important Nose. He came to California while he was in the Army. He thought he might become a veterinarian at some point and was in charge of the commanding officer's horse.

He never went back to New York to stay after that. It's hard to take the Bronx out of the boy and all he has to do is speak a word or two and you'll know where he's from. At some point he became an insurance adjuster. That's how he met my husband. They met some real characters together in their jobs as insurance adjusters, most of them other insurance adjusters. They were two nice guys in a world that wasn't necessarily so nice to them.

Mr. Delinsky never married even though he still has an eye for a beautiful woman. I can tell he was shy, still is. I suspect he never could feel right about a long term commitment either, the adjustments, the compromises, the indignities. My sense is that he didn't think someone would feel that way about him. He had a dog that he loved. The dog has been gone a while now but he doesn't think he will get another. I teased him once that I was going to find a rescue dog for him for his birthday. I didn't realize that this would upset him or cause him anxiety. It did. Mr. Delinsky doesn't like to be pushed into situations. Everything was better when we both told him we wouldn't really force a dog on him.

He's a gentle man, Mr. Delinsky. He loves Broadway and show tunes. He loves listening to good live music as long as they play the standards. He's always trying to get me to sing with the piano player at dinner. I did once. I'm not sure I would do it again. I'll sing to him at the dinner table though. He loves that.

We went to the Top of the Mark one evening to listen to Riccardo Scales. We met Jeff Labes at Marin Joe's and caught a special dinner show with Jeff and LynAnn King, a Johnny Mercer revue at a cozy Italian restaurant called Aurora in Marin County. We went to a special engagement at the Jewish Community Center featuring a torch singer. His crush on her from afar was clear, so I took his arm and slowly walked him to the table of CD's in the lobby where she stood after the show so they could talk. It was magic for him.

Mr. Delinsky is in his 80's. He plays tennis. He meets his old cronies in the City. His nickname at Marin Joe's is "Dino." People mistake him as someone who would be a member of the Rat Pack, but he's a little less flashy, a man of manners and humor. He is always so stunned that we love to spend time with him.

We have no need to try to arrange a date for Mr. Delinsky. We know he's a confirmed bachelor. We like having him to ourselves anyway. He's a Leo and he is like a little lion who is comfortable in his territory. And yet, he's still got a few surprises, Leo-style.
Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

"You know that YouTube thing?" he rasps over Jeff's piano-playing, a song too modern to interest Mr. Delinsky. "YouTube, right?"

We nod, suddenly curious. Mr. Delinsky is not a computer guy. We want to know the YouTube connection.

"This guy," he continues, "this guy does movies. Real movies. He asks me will I do a movie. I think he asked me because he thinks I'm the only one who would actually do it."

His eyes twinkle at the danger of an acting debut.

"So I said yes. It's something about Rudy Kaputnik. How do you spell that?"

We venture a guess.

"Look it up." I get out my new phone and finally find it. It's The Rudi Kapootnik Story. I play it for him.

"Can you see that?" He points to the tiny screen.

"Oh, look, Mr. Delinsky! You're a movie star!"

He beamed shyly. He told us about the next project his friend has cast him in. He has misgivings. The subject matter doesn't exactly match him. His friend wrote the piece with him in mind, though, misunderstanding his shy and respectable side. He doesn't want to hurt his friend's feelings. We talk about the possible alternatives. He's going to think about it.

He's a lovely example of a modest American dream. Have a house. Maybe a dog. Meet some friends for tennis or lunch. Fall in love from afar. Chase your favorite music. Try something completely different like starring in a movie. His retirement is small but has its satisfactions.
Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I think about my own working future. I'm on the "work until dead" plan myself. But I have so much to learn from Mr. Delinsky. The next time someone tells me I have "golden handcuffs" at work, I will think about him and the 8 of Swords and Strength. They look like handcuffs to some, but I know I have deliberately set the thoughts around me with the Strength to stay for a reason.

Best wishes.
Watch Mr. Delinsky starring in The Rudi Kapootnik Story. And if you wonder what America is really like, here's the real Mr. Delinsky, our adorable friend.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Year of the Scary Guy

2012 is the Year of the Hierophant. OK, all you non-tarot geek people do not have to tune out here. This is Tarot-lite anyway. All the best people will tell you that. Just like last year, we go through the easy task of adding the digits in the year, which is of course completely a human construct since different cultures use different calendars. Never mind about all that. 2 plus 0 plus 1 plus 2 equals 5 in nearly any culture and 5 is the Hierophant’s number. Oh, play along.

Omigosh, what’s a hierophant? And why did they have to pick such a big word to mean…what? A bit of ogling the ol' Google will tell us:


Noun: A person, esp. a priest in ancient Greece, who interprets sacred mysteries or esoteric principles.

Well, that’s actually an excellent basis for discussion about this card, this year and a bit of history. So, in case you hadn’t known this before, the first traces we have of something called Tarot came from documents in northern Italy in the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I like to think of them as the police blotter reporting the cops breaking up a bar fight over a card game and basically, that’s what happened. People used these decks of cards first, however, as presentation pieces because paper wasn’t that widely available (go back and look at the history of printing and the whole lifetimes people spent in scriptoriums because things were handwritten and drawn before mass communications had the big printing breakthrough). Suffice it to say, the early decks sprung up in Italy when popular culture assumed, incorrectly of course, that everyone was some kind of Catholic Christian.

So the person at the top who interprets sacred mysteries or esoteric principles is, for $100, Alex, is – pausing for dramatic effect – The Pope! So this card was originally called The Pope. Customs changed and after a while it was rude, and in some cases rude meant punishment in the extreme, to do things like have the Pope as a character in a card game or divination tool. Well, you see where this is leading? They had to change the name of course to something that was a little less inflammatory, hence, Hierophant. Fine, ancient Greece doesn't seem so rude.

Obviously, this wasn’t that simple, but I did promise you Tarot-lite. There’s a lot more to that story.

The essence of meaning didn’t change, though. The number 5 major arcana card still means the person who is The Spiritual Leader who translates spiritual messages to the folks who are, well, not the spiritual leader. This is the person who teaches us how we should live.

Now we get to the scary part. You expected the Spanish Inquisition, didn’t you? Nope, the scary part is how we view this card today because, well, my whole discussion here is how we, the People of Today, interact with the concept of “the person who teaches us how we should live”.

Raise your hand if your hackles raised before your hand when reading that phrase. In “free-thinking” Western Society and especially the sassy, back-talking, wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap United States, we who speak our minds, our hearts, our bathrooms, our bedrooms, our closets, our frivolous opinions, our trips to the grocery store through any medium available and only sometimes regret it later are positively incensed by the idea that anyone would even try to tell us how we should do anything. This distills to the sigh you may hear that “young people are falling away from The Church”. Please note, you may insert any denomination here.

Still, strangely enough, we of the Country of Smart Aleks are often in search of spiritual leaders. We don’t want to be told what we should do but we want to be told how we might do. And, unless we’ve lived Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, the word Teacher seems to be a tamer, less volatile interpretation of Number 5.

From the point of view of the Teacher, without all the brimstone and other signs of enthusiasm, the Teacher has knowledge to translate into something understandable to the Student. Consider how difficult this translation can be if the nature of the information is spiritual, something that by definition defies description in concrete terms so that any Fool could clearly understand it. Is it any wonder then that spiritual topics are often those causing the worst misunderstandings in the world which of course lead to war, hatred, crimes against humanity and all the dreadful things that are anathema to a Spiritual Life?

After all, why did the chicken cross the road? That and so many other things, when discussed by the Teacher with the Students, can be taken out of context and misconstrued by the Teacher’s all-too-human analogies which hit the wrong note with the Student, the Student’s Parents, the Student’s Friends and the Local News. The Teacher, the Hierophant therefore has one foot in the Spiritual World with his understanding of the mysteries and one foot in the human world where he or she tries to make that information make sense in an everyday setting.

Tired of me yet? If you’re the Hierophant, you’re tired. You’ve tried to explain it eight ways to Sunday and sometimes you just want to say, “Don’t try to analyze it. Just accept that it’s true.” That blind faith is the unsteady bridge we build to leap the gap between what the Spiritual Leader “gets” and none of us can describe exactly. Obviously, the simplest messages seem to work best because they don’t get into too much detail that people can quibble about and they make some kind of sense: “Be ye to others kind and true,” as antique samplers might say.
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

From the Student’s point of view, the Hierophant may be just this side of insane. The Student knows he has some message but, like any skeptic, wants to evaluate it (see my previous post on the Pages' take  on the Teacher’s message). From just about any point of view, though, the Teacher with one foot in this world and one in the next is a bit off his nut, you might say. And that, in itself, is scary. You and your companions have strayed into the Spiritual Woods and the Guide is not all there. But that's just one perspective. What if he or she is enlightened and struggling with translation?

And so, full circle, 2012 is the Year of the Hierophant. You may have a flash of insight and when you share it, the recipients of your new-found Eureka moment may think you’ve lost your mind. You may struggle to teach others something you are afraid is being lost in our fast and furious society. You will see others try to insert their teachings into everyday life, like current political candidates are doing, for good or ill. In this Year of the Hierophant, I urge you to translate carefully, gently, patiently, kindly and allow for the glorious variation that exists in the Spirit Human. Even the Teacher learns. Please, give the Hierophant a break. Let's put the "Hi!" back in Hierophant!

Best wishes. It's just a suggestion.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Possum Holler

I love urban wildlife. I don't mean spouse swapping. I mean critters who have adapted to human invasion of wild territory. Some critters adjust better than others, like squirrels and the birds at the bird feeder.
Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Some of the species are "introduced" although I don't think it was what Miss Manners had in mind. Our friend Karen in Fort Lauderdale took us for a little walk around her neighborhood when we visited a few years back. Part of the tour included show and tell about their current problem with iguanas who roam the neighborhoods. We saw them. They run in gangs and look like thugs in green leather jackets and little iguana-Mohawk topknots. The grouping (what DO you call a collective of iguanas?) we saw near the houses next to the canal looked like they were waiting for a friend outside a tattoo parlor, chain-smoking.

Aside from being startling, and I mean who, like the Spanish Inquisition, expects an iguana at your front door, I was curious about the harm these escapees cause. Apparently, they eat things like your landscaping. The most curious problem happens about this time of year, Karen said, when they sleep in trees in the winter. Being cold-blooded, they don't move much after a cold night and tend to fall out of the tree. OK, an iguana at the gates is one thing but one falling on your head is a bit much.

Most of my encounters with urban wildlife have been with the natives, like raccoons and deer. Deer love roses and so do people who live in California. One of my favorite garden tips came from the Marin I-J. A disgruntled gardener wrote in to the garden columnist, "Can you name a variety of rose deer won't eat?"

"Yes," came the expert reply. "Plastic."

The deer in California are different from the deer in the midwest. California deer are about the size of a good-sized dog. Deer in the midwest are about the size of a small horse. Well, they are when they are crashing through your backyard during a pleasant Sunday afternoon when you're trying to read a trashy novel in the sunshine. But, with the price of landscaping, rose-eating deer cause a lot of consternation. My friend Ronda has deer roaming her neighborhood and wild turkeys too. That's the bird, not the bottle.

Another thing that I wasn't used to when I moved to California is the occasional wild pig alert in the Mt. Diablo area. The pigs are descendants of domestic pigs brought in to keep the cows from eating acorns and losing their calves. A lot of little pigs later and occasionally wild pigs completely destroy people's yards, etc looking for goodies.

Lucky for me, my encounters with wildlife at home have been more benign and less costly to the property. A small rattlesnake was quickly relocated to the designated open space by a neighbor. Just part of the gold in them thar' hills here.

One of my favorite encounters was with the vain red-tailed hawk who hung out near our house for a while. He perched on the windshield wipers of the van across the street and admired his reflection in the glass, turning his head one way, then the other, as if to make sure his sideburns were even. He's moved on at least, hunting for songbirds and other small creatures in easier locations with fewer powerlines and dogs to interrupt the process.

Last night, however, the visitor was something of a more mundane variety.

First, I should tell you that Martha and Miguel next door have the cutest little chihuahuas, Chocolate and, um, Mrs. Chocolate. I've never quite gotten her name. Along with Mr. and Mrs. C also lives Moche who is, to the best of my understanding, a papillon. Moche makes a pretty good guard dog. You make the wrong move, you could lose an ankle. And he barks. In fact all of them bark and howl. When the ambulances screech down the next street over on their way to one of the two hospitals nearby, our very own "Mariachi Chorus" entertains us with their high-pitched song.

Ordinarily, I don't mind their serenades even at odd hours. I realized last night that the reason I don't mind is that ambulances go past here pretty fast and the accompaniment is generally brief. Last night was an exception, a long exception.

When Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus (the hubs and me) settled in for our long winter's nap last night, we had fully expected that the noisemakers and excitement from New Year's Eve was pleasantly over. You know, over, like a couple of days ago. We had just reached an agreement between the dog and cats Tony and Alice about which sections of what real estate on the mattress were allocated to whom and where the easements were when the racket started.

With no high pitched screaming, I was pretty sure the three canines next door did not have a cat as a quarry. After all, these are small dogs who are justifiably afraid of cats. The few outdoor cats in my neighborhood could take three small dogs with one paw tied behind their backs but are entirely too lazy to get into a situation like that.

Amid the chihuahua high notes was a baseline of songless growling. John and I looked at each other and shrugged. We were pretty sure the situation would resolve itself shortly. We were wrong. It went on. And on.

"I'm pretty sure the Mariachi Chorus has cornered an opossum in the fence back there," I gestured out the window where Alice was now enjoying her ringside seat.

"Ungh," John said. Really, he is a big talker, just not after 11 pm or so. The ruckus had been going on for half an hour. I turned a page in my novel, no where near sleepy.

"It's surprising Miguel and Martha can sleep through this." I imagined shoes being thrown out windows. A shoe could hit a dog, I reasoned. We wouldn't want that. John muttered something about rolling over. I endured another 20 minutes with remarkable patience. Alice never left her post, enthralled with the yaps and squeals of the dog and the gutteral rumble of their quarry. These are tame dogs so while they might corner their prey, the next steps were not entirely clear.

"I know where a flashlight is," I said, nudging John gently. "Wouldn't it be terrible if little Pogo got hurt?"

John sputtered a few things that might have been Butte-en-ese or Gaelic or something else my mother would have pretended not to understand and swung his legs over the side.

"I get a back scratch out of this and that's final." I agreed quickly.

He donned his robe suddenly reminding me much of an elderly spinster who had neglected to shave her legs. Or beard for that matter. He left the bedroom, rattled around in some utility storage spot. The backyard light came on and Alice sat up with greater interest. The crunch of leaves and the beam of the flashlight helped us follow his progress. He was my Knight of Wands, bringing light and energy to change the stalemate.

"Daddy's going to save the possum, huh, kitty?" Alice was not sure if that would mean saving it for her or just saving it. One of those would be good news. She intended to watch. Tony hid as the better part of valor. Quincy slept, deaf dog.

The barking and growling continued, but in a few minutes it slowly moved along the fenceline from the back of the yards towards the front. A bit of scuffling followed by a de-escalation in barking. Gates opened and closed. Feet trudged up stairs. The back yard light went off. All was quiet. John slipped back into bed.

"You were right," he muttered. "Possum. In the corner of the yard. Got his tail stuck in a board in the fence. Used a stick. Should be OK now."

He rolled over, no longer interested in the back scratch. I assume he will collect later. He likes a good scratch.

Mrs. Chocolate started up again. We looked at each other and sighed, no longer willing to answer the alarm. I read a little more in my novel and started to snooze, noise and all. I turned out the reading light finally and Mrs. Chocolate gave up the possum alarm, finally realizing she was no match in the dark for a fully grown and annoyed Pogo. We all settled back down into our naps with hope for a better tomorrow.

Best wishes and Happy New Year.