Sunday, May 24, 2009

Redbird, redbird what do you see?

A page from Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.

Ok, so Nevermore comes and visits me every once in awhile, but he's pretty much a thing of the past. Now meet Loco Louie. Yes, folks, we have been bombarded by a crazy cardinal now.

He attacks our kitchen window at least 20 times a day. And by that I mean each time he "visits", it consists of several hits to the window. Watch this video and see what I mean.

This reminds me of what Rita Rudner said. "Never play peek-a-boo with a child on a long plane trip. There's no end to the game. Finally I grabbed him by the bib and said, Look, it's always gonna be me!"

I feel like grabbing this bird and saying, "Look, it's always gonna be YOU!" When is he going to realize that it's not another male bird, but only him! Maybe all this flying into the window has knocked him senseless.

That's all I know is, it was funny to begin with. Now it's getting frustrating and aggravating as I sit by the kitchen table working on my laptop, tapping at the keys while he's tapping at the window. Kind of freaky.

Then I noticed this bird hanging around. Could he be next? Stay tuned.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tap, Tap, Tapping

This morning I awoke to a muffled sound, almost like a ticking sound. I knew it wasn't my biological clock, because as my niece, Becky, says in North Carolina, that's "done git gone" a LONG time ago! I have excellent hearing, which I'll leave for another day, another chapter. So I'm lying in bed, trying to figure out where the heck this sound is coming from, and what is making this noise. When you live in a trailer, every little noise is magnified.

First I thought it might be water dripping. I jumped up and checked the shower. Nope. Got back in bed. Tick. Tick. Tick. Jumped up and checked the sink - possibly the faucet wasn't turned off all the way. Nope. Dry. Back in bed. Tick. Tick. Maybe it's the wind blowing the blinds in our little 3' x 2' bathroom. Nope. No wind. Crawled back in bed a little frustrated. That incessant ticking was now becoming a pounding in my head. I must have woken Jim up with all my moving around.

"Do you hear that?" I asked him.


"That!" I say, as that "tick" comes again.

"I don't hear anything," he replies. (A common scenario in our marriage.)

"There it is again! There! Hear it?"

"Yeah, that's a bird."

"No, it doesn't sound like a bird." Usually when birds walk on our roof we can hear their little claws clicking against the metal. This was a different sound.

"A bird is trying to get into our kitchen slide out."

Then I remembered the other day, right after we parked here. Our trailer is right next to a small tree. The branches touch our kitchen window, in fact. The birds are fascinated by our trailer, and our window, in particular. I've heard that when birds see their reflection they think it's another bird. Right away a robin flew into the tree, then at our window a couple of times.

Now, it seems, this other little bird, which I've yet to identify, has made it it's own personal mission to peck the hell out of our window. Tap, tap, tap. Okay, at first it was cute, kind of funny, you know? I even named him "Nevermore" from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". But as I'm sitting here at the kitchen table, this tapping is beginning to drive me crazy. I mean really, if he thinks that his reflection is another bird, why isn't it fighting back?

I was determined to get a picture of Nevermore so I grabbed my camera and a chair and parked it near the tree. As soon as the bird saw me, he took off. I sat still for a long time, but he didn't come back as long as I was there. The only way I could get a picture of the little guy was through the kitchen window.

I did discover that we had a bird's nest on one of the bars that pushes out our slideout. We've been here less than a week and we've been invaded by birds!

I am a bird lover, but if this tapping goes on for much longer, Nevermore is going to live up to his name.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Home Sweet Utica

We have settled in Utica, IL for a nice two month stay. This is the closest campground nearest our daughter, Jessica, who lives in Princeton, IL. We are excited to be back because we haven't seen our newest granddaughter, Lily, since she was born in January.

We've stayed at Hickory Hollows Campground several times, and it's one of our favorites. The people are very nice, the sites are nice, especially when they put us in the "back 40" as I call it. When we're the long timers here, they put us way in the back along the farmer's field. One year he planted corn, one year he had soy beans. It's kind of cool to be upcloseandpersonal to nature, you know? There wasn't anybody else around when we got here on May 1st. I called us "Little Trailer on the Prairie."

The campground fills up on the weekend, especially as the month goes by. One Thursday morning I left an empty campground to go to Jessica's; came home at 10:00 pm to find the campground completely full! It seems that a whole camping group of coaches (buses) had come in earlier in the day.

While we're in the area, I am babysitting Lily on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's a joy to have some bonding time with her. She seems to enjoy Grandma's singing (she's a "captive" audience, right?)

The other days are spent however we want - some studying (me - a photography course through New York Institute of Photography) and Jim, well, he got himself interested in a psaltery. Never heard of that? Me neither. It is a stringed musical instrument that is part of the harp or zither family. When we stayed at the Paducah campground, the owner had a psaltery that he played with a bow. He played a few tunes for Jim and told Jim that he had taught himself. Jim was so impressed and that's all he talked about the next few days. He surfed the net, found a used one, and the next thing I know, there are some strange high pitched sounds coming out of my living room. Thank God we can close the door to that room! But we all have to start somewhere! I give him credit for trying to learn this.

The other hours are filled with reading, writing, cleaning, errands, or just walking around and taking photos. It's nice not having to pack up the trailer every day and head out. That gets old REAL QUICK. So for now, Utica is where we call home, at least until July. Then we move up to Marengo, IL, where we're closer to my family and our old stomping grounds.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Putzing in Paducah (Kentucky, that is)

Boy I thought the trailer was going to float away last night - it had rained steadily all night long and into the morning hours. We hung around the campground till it stopped raining (after lunch) and went exploring in town.

We found the historic part of town easily enough. The flood walls have murals painted on them - all 42 of them! And I took pictures of every one of them! Here are only a few of them.

We walked down main street of the charming old part of town. The old buildings had a lot of character, and I bet the town was really something in it's hey day. But with the economic downturn, it looked like Middle America was hurting pretty much like everywhere else in this country. The streets were fairly empty for a Tuesday afternoon.

But I bet during the week of April 22-25, this place was hopping. That was the 25th annual American Quilter's Society Show, held at the National Quilt Museum right here in Paducah. They had on display the past 25 years winners in the "Best in Show" category from all over the world. We had not planned on going through the exhibit at first. The campground owner told us to be sure to stop at the museum and to go into the conference room to see the "wooden quilt" called "Floating" by Fraser Smith. That was free of charge. So Jim and I thought, "What the heck, we're here." You can go into the museum's gift shop and the conference room for free. Before entering the conference room, there is a painted block of wood on a stand that is a sample of the wooden quilt.

It is available for you to touch it, take pictures, etc. Because once you enter the room, you cannot take pictures of the quilt. It really is a good idea to let the public touch the piece of wood, because believe me when I say that you would NOT believe the quilt is made out of wood when you see it hanging on the wall. It has curves or waves in it like a regular cloth quilt would. It really is unbelievable. I was able to find a picture of the quilt on the artist's web site. I got his permission to show the photos here. But I'd recommend you to visit his website to see all the unbelievable sculptures that he has done.

We browsed the gift shop where they had many delightful items I could easily have spent my money on. I felt guilty for even being in the museum since I can barely sew on a button! The cashier asked if we were planning to go into the museum. We explained that we only came to see the wooden quilt. She began gushing over the beautiful quilts that were in the museum, explaining how they currently have the "Best of Show" from the last 25 years. She whipped up a book and flipped through the pages, showing me pictures of the quilts. She was very convincing, and a few minutes later Jim and I were entering the hushed gallery with the magnificent quilts hanging on display. Some were hand stitched, others stitched by machine. All were beautiful. They came from all over the world. Best of Show prize? $25,000 The hitch? They have to leave the quilt with the museum. Do you believe that some people actually don't want the money? I guess after all that work, and hundreds of hours, they want to keep it for themselves. There were quilts from Australia, Japan, Korea, but mostly from the States.

For more information on the National Quilt Museum, visit

We had an enjoyable time viewing the quilts. Afterwards we walked down to the old fashioned ice cream shop and munched on a waffle cone with butter pecan ice cream. Yum!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Natchez Trace - Day Three - Trails End

I was feeling a little melancholy this morning, knowing it was our last day on the Trace. We left the campground and passed the farm with the imaginary animals - or should I say the "plaster of Paris" animals. I've seen deer statues in people's yards but several horse statues and a cow? That's a bit much!

At milepost 330.2 we stopped at Rock Spring. There is a 20 minute walk along Colbert Creek. We met a couple walking up the path. She said, "Don't worry, the five dogs are very friendly." At first I thought that she had five dogs herself, off leash, coming up the path. Then she added, "There's a mother and 4 pups down there. I really wanted to take a puppy!" I thought, "Oh no, not again!" She said that the dogs all looked healthy. I was happy/sad that we did not run into them as we walked along the creek. There were these neat stepping stones to get across the creek.

The creek was fresh and clean at this spot. But as we walked further around the curve, the water had pooled into an area, thanks to beavers building a damn. The smell was pretty rank. We saw a brown spotted/striped snake slithering in the water. Not sure if it was a water moccasin or a harmless brown water snake. In either case, it gave me the shivers. Not a fan of snakes!

We continued down the path and ran into an elderly couple, along with their daughter, who were from Wisconsin. The older woman really knew her wildflowers. She identified several to me while I took pictures and Jim took notes. This one is called Jacob's Ladder.

Here is a purple phlox:

This third one is called trillium. I thought it was interesting when I looked up some info on this. Another name for this is Stinking Benjamin because the flowers have the smell of rotting meat, and they are pollinated by flies! Who knew?

We have met some really nice people on the Trace. Fellow RVer's, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and car enthusiasts. Either we strike up a conversation or vice versa.

At one stop we found a thirsty bicyclist who asked us for water. Luckily I had put some bottles in the refrigerator earlier in the morning so we were able to give him a nice cold one. He was waiting for his group to join him. The group was driving/biking the whole Natchez Trace - he had to drive 2 days, but he's been biking for 300 miles including today.

At another stop we ran into a group of car enthusiasts. We didn't get a chance to talk to them, but I was able to snap a photo of some of their cars.

One woman really was into playing her role as you can see by this photo:

At mile post 404.7 is the Jackson Falls. Right off the bat we spotted this unusual bike in the parking lot.

I had to take a bunch of pictures of it, then found out who were the owners.

There were two trails available - one that was very steep, 900 feet, that went down to the falls. The other was, according to the sign, a "gentle" 1/4 mile trail that leads 300 feet (30 stories) high above Duck Pond. We were obviously misled about the "gentle" part. About a third of the way up my joints started speaking to me. About a half the way up I started answering them. Jim went on ahead to see how much further we had to go. I looked around and dug up a thick branch to use as a walking stick and began walking up the steep hill. Jim came back and didn't even ask where I got the walking stick - did he think I pulled it out of my butt or what? Finally the path leveled off for awhile and Jim volunteered to go on ahead to see what he could see. It turned out there really wasn't much to see - the trees were blocking the way! We turned around and headed back down the path. I was mumbling a few choice words under my breath. Somehow going down hill was a lot easier. Kind of like trying to stop a steamroller. We met a young couple charging up the hill. The woman was carrying a baby (maybe 15-20 lbs!) in a carrier that hung from the front of her. I don't think she was even breaking a sweat! The way I looked at it, I was climbing that hill as if I were the octoplet mom with 8 babies hanging off of me! Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little. I could lose about 3 babies weight! Anyhoo, I felt appropriately ashamed for about 2 seconds then continued down the hill. We ran into another more reasonable couple towards the bottom, who were already sweating. I smiled, told them it was a rough climb, and bequeathed my walking stick to them. My good deed for the day.

Did I mention the bugs around here? They are BIG down south. Especially their bumble bees. They sound like freakin' B-52 bombers when they fly by you, and they're almost as big! They would bounce off our large side mirrors on the truck (about 18 inches long). I'd hear, "Bing!" Every once in awhile one would bounce into the truck. They'd only be stunned momentarily. I heard a bing! felt something hit me in the chest, I let out a yelp and started freaking out. I looked at my feet and found what looked like a lighting bug on steroids! He was about 5 times the width of a normal size lighting bug. I had to be brave and kill him because Jim was driving. It was not pretty.

Sometimes Jim and I would get confused after we'd turn into one of the scenic areas. We'd pull out and couldn't remember if we were heading north or south. Because of our mistake and we had to turn around, we were able to have our lunch at a beautiful location - a nice picnic area overlooking Lake Pickwick. A cool breeze coming off the water blew the humidity away and the big bugs! This is the John Coffee Memorial Bridge over Lake Pickwick.

Our last stop on the Trace was at the Double Arch Bridge. We pulled off there so I could take pictures.

A car pulled up with a Hispanic girl all dressed up, along with her friends. I think they might have been celebrating her 15th birthday, or Mexican QuinceaƱera. I thought it was cute how she stood on the bridge and waved to the cars passing underneath.

There were so many motorcyclists on the Trace. It's a beautiful road for that purpose. Jim and I had just gotten back into the truck when I saw this couple getting ready to leave on their motorcycle. I quick snapped pictures from my seat, across Jim, through his window. I call this one "Tough Love". You'll see why.

Well, we did it. We drove all 440 miles of the Trace and enjoyed every minute of it. We think we might just come back down this way on our way to Arizona in the fall, but visit the outlying cities. All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and we'd recommend it to anyone. Thanks to our friends Norma and Larry for telling us about the Natchez Trace in the first place. Did you plan our next trip?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Natchez Trace - Day Two - The Miracle of Three

We had an easy “get-away” in the morning since we had left the trailer hooked up from pulling in the day before. So we got on the road before 9:00 a.m. That’s early for us! It was a nice drive back on the bridge over the reservoir that connects the campground to the Trace. All along the reservoir were many Great Blue Herons. I bet we saw over ten! Jim said that they were staking out their own fishing spots because they seemed to be sitting about 20 feet apart from each other! I was happy because I saw a group of pelicans (3*) floating on the water! We sped by and I couldn’t get a picture off.

We planned to backtrack a little and go south on the Trace to make up for what we missed yesterday. First we stopped for gas, and then headed directly to the Mississippi Crafts Center. Here beautiful arts and crafts were displayed and for sale, from hand woven baskets, to stained glass hangings, to handmade wooden chairs, pottery, jewelry, just to name a few. It was nice to wander down the aisles and pretend I had money, debating which items I would purchase. I love the “bottle tree”. What is a bottle tree? It is a tree filled with bottles. The bottle tree's origins can be traced back to Africa. It was believed that bottles suspended in the trees would attract evil spirits when the sun glimmered through the bottles. The evil spirits would then be trapped in the bottles.

The man working the welcome desk also repaired cane chairs. He was in the process of fixing one when we came out of the store, so he showed us how he repaired the chair. He explained that “caning” was really a lost art and that he had 12 chairs waiting for him at home to be repaired!

Continued down the road and then saw, Yuk!, a snake slithering across the road. It was about 2 feet long and a bluish color. Of course we had no choice but to hit him. Jim described it as, “Bap, bap, bap-bap-bap.” (Front tire of truck, back doolies, 3 tires on trailer!) That sucker was road kill for sure! As a matter of fact, we saw two other smooshed snakes on the road later in the day, for a total of 3*.

My all time favorite stop of the day had to be at mile marker 122 – the Cypress Swamp.

The swamp was filled with both Cypress and Tupelo trees. Did you know that Tupelo was a tree? Yep, that’s what we learned today. And yes, the city of Tupelo is named after the tree. Looking into the swamp we could see a mirrored image of the trees above. There was a small trail surrounding the swamp with little signs that talked about the trees, animals, etc. Alligators are few, but can be found in the swamp. I happened to be walking first on the trail, and Jim said to me, “Watch for a log that looks like its breathing!” Isn’t he just the greatest?

Zooming down the road to our next stop we saw 3* wild turkeys fly/run to the side of the road. Man, we almost had food for a month!

The drive has been so peaceful. The smell of pine trees is so powerful, and every once in awhile you get a whiff of something sweet that’s in bloom. Today we happened by a couple of guys who were cutting the grass on either side of the road and we smelled wild chives.

We stopped at Cole Creek, mile marker 175.6, another tupelo/bald-cypress swamp, but it wasn’t as nice as the other swamp. Again there was a little trail around the swamp that we walked (it felt good to stretch our legs.) Again my husband felt it wise to share a little of his wisdom. “If you should see a snake with what looks like cotton in his mouth, it’s not really cotton.”

I replied, “Let me guess, it’s a cottonmouth snake. But believe me, if I see a snake, I’m not going to study it to see if it has cotton in its mouth!”

“No? What would you do?”

“Well, I’d jump in your arms!”

Our last stop of the day was at the Bynum Mounds. Prehistoric people built these mounds between 2,100 and 1,800 years ago and were used as burials and for ceremonial purposes.

But what was interesting was that as soon as we pulled up, a couple of dogs welcomed us. They came up to us wagging their tails. No one was around. I think someone might have left them there. One dog looked pretty scraggy;

The other one looked ok. I immediately wanted to feed them or at least give them water. So I grabbed an old plastic bowl from the trailer and gave them some water.

The two dogs drank most of the water, and then followed us to the area by the mounds. I stopped because a third little dog came out who was just precious looking. Jim continued to walk, but I was torn, looking at these dogs. The female dog showed me her belly like she wanted a good scratching.

Her tail was wagging. I noticed that all the dogs had flea collars on them, but no tags. I went back up to the water bowl and poured in the rest of the water from my water bottle. The female dog came over, drank all the water, then proceeded to pick up the bowl and run away with it! I hated to leave the dogs, but I did the next best thing. I called the emergency line and reported the 3* dogs to the ranger. Hopefully the dogs will be turned in to the nearest shelter.

So at the end of the day, I’ve seen 3 dogs, 3 snakes, 3 pelicans, 3 wild turkeys, and several great blue herons. It was a GREAT day!

We stopped to camp right off the Trace at a campground located in Tupelo, MS.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Natchez Trace - Day One - Here we go! 4/22/09

I was pretty excited to be on the Natchez Trace for real. I had this crazy idea that I would actually count the number of motorcycles, vehicles, RV’s, and bicyclists that passed us along the way. This wasn’t too hard to do in the morning. Then we left the Trace to go to the National Military Park in Vicksburg. By the time we returned to the Trace, it was late afternoon. There was a lot of traffic on it – then I realized that people were using it as a shortcut because of construction on another road. So I’m not going to consider those cars in my calculations. Over the course of 3 ½ hours, we passed 8 motorcycles, 40 cars, 4 RV’s, 22 bicyclists, and 1 turkey! That averages out to be: 11.4 cars, 2.3 motorcycles, 1.1 RV’s, 6.3 bicyclists and a turkey leg (or wing) per hour!

We blew past the stops we made yesterday, so our first stop of the day was Sunken Trace at mile marker 41.5. This was part of the actual road that had been worn down well over 12 feet deep by the thousands who traveled the Trace, be it human or beast. The picture doesn't do it justice, or truly capture the feeling of awe that we felt standing there.

A few miles down the road we stopped at Grindstone Ford/Magnum Mound. Before we even turned into the pullout, I was mesmerized by this beautiful scene.

There were two roads off the main driveway. We weren’t sure if either had a loop at the end to make it possible for us to swing around in with our large trailer. We noticed a lone bicyclist coming towards us. He was pretty friendly and told us that we’d have to go under a bridge that was only 11’ 14” leading to the Mangum Mound. Since our trailer was 12’ something tall, that road was out. We drove to the other site and saw old gravestones from the early 1800’s.

Jim walked to the other site while I took pictures of the farm with the horses.

At this point we opted to take a detour from the Trace and visit the Vicksburg National Military Park. We got in for free due to Jim’s National Senior Pass.

The Battle of Vicksburg lasted 47 days in the year 1863. Union soldiers, lead by Major General Ulysses S. Grant fought, and won, a bloody battle to take control over Vicksburg, and thus, the Mississippi River. This would also isolate the States of Texas and Arkansas and most of Louisiana – an area which the South depended heavily upon for supplies and recruits.

The Vicksburg National Park is spread out over 16 miles and 1,700 acres of land. We were able to drive completely around it towing our trailer. There were only a couple of spots we avoided because they did not offer a loop for us to turn around in.

Twenty eight states were represented in the battle, and each of them has a monument erected to honor their soldiers. Illinois has the best monument, I must say, and I’m not being biased. Here it is – you see for yourself.

It has 47 steps leading up to it, one step for each day of the battle. The walls inside the dome are lined with metal plaques listing all the names (almost 37,000) of the soldiers who fought in the Vicksburg battle. There is a hole in the top of the dome which allows natural light to come in.

This is the Shirley House. Union troops called it “the white house.” It is the only surviving wartime structure in the park. During the siege it served as headquarters for the 45th Illinois Infantry, members of which built hundreds of bombproof shelters around it to protect themselves against Confederate artillery fire. It has been restored to its 1863 appearance.

This is the U.S.S. Cairo, a gunboat that suffered two explosions while moving up the Yazoo River just north of Vicksburg. It had hopes of destroying Confederate batteries and clearing any enemy obstructions from the channel. The explosions (caused from an electrically detonated torpedo) tore gaping holes in the bottom of the boat and sunk within minutes. The boat was salvaged in the early 1960’s.

We couldn’t drive to the cemetery because we wouldn’t be able to fit through the gates (darn!) so this is a photo I took overlooking the cemetery from where we parked.

We hightailed it back to the Trace when we finished our tour of the National Military Park. From the Trace we exited to our campground that a fellow camper had recommended to us. It was a beautiful drive along the reservoir. The campground itself was very nice.