Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Suddenly Spring

I'm feeling it. Winter's made its last blast on Florida's open-air plants. Soon the trees will cut their losses, surrender damaged limbs, and grow replacements.

Meanwhile, my sister and I take a brief but sweet reprieve from the browned-out landscape.

The revolving door turns slowly as it transports us into an Alice-in-Wonderland world of waterfalls, misted air, and 20,000 shades of delicious greens and voracious plants.

Springtime hangs from pergolas and posts, vines and vessels.

The rainforest conditions of the under-glass garden support a host of greens, such as this necklace of leaves adorning a moss-covered rock.

I'm familiar with caladiums, a popular tropical houseplant, but the 20-inch length of these leaves is astounding.

Known for epiphytes (plants that fasten themselves to other plants without taking sustenance from them), the Selby Gardens Conservatory houses an amazing collection. Case in point: The pitcher plant, a carnivore, hangs from a tree support where it's free to trap insects in a prey-attracting cavity formed by a cupped leaf filled with a nectar bribe. When the unsuspecting victims explore the pitfall, they're turned into bug juice for the pitcher plant to drink.

Nature is such a show-off!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Table Grace

We're born with silver spoons in our mouths, taste buds to match, and invitations to life's lavish banquet. From our first awakening moments, instincts move us toward bountiful tastes and aromas.

These days, the rush for food is on. We pull up for fast food, order take out from delis, and pack it in at convenience stores. We line up at salad bars, food courts, and buffets to sate our appetites in a matter of minutes and, when restaurants don't serve us within the short time we allot them, we fidget and ask what's taking so long. At home, we cook the lazy way, the quick way and, when we're too tired to cook, we do it vicariously by way of television.

The wind-down philosophy of abbey style turns the tables on the feeding frenzy. Its simple table, spread with pure white linen and plain dinnerware, appears like a mirage in the desert, an oasis of calm. The table under a leafy bower (above) expresses a secular version of the abbey table--it's humble, serene, clean, and communal. Located in the village of Monterosso, one of five towns along Italy's Cinque Terre, I find it spellbinding--it suggests an antidote to the dizzying pace I often face. As time goes on, I remember it, slow down, and spend more time appreciating the tastes and aromas of food I've so graciously been given while enjoying heart-to-hearts with the company I keep.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I like to keep my distance from seabirds. White droppings, bird diseases, beady eyes, and darting searches for crumbs under my table at Sharky's--all too close for comfort. Aggressive scavengers, they never miss a thing. An unsuspecting tourist can walk along the edge of the sea licking an ice cream cone, get dive-bombed, and be left holding an empty cone. Fast food containers, when carried onto the beach, wave like white flags of surrender, sure to attract a bird attack.

At a distance, though, I'm in awe of them. Soaring and dipping, diving and drinking, they fascinate the quiet observer with spectacles of flight and feeding. They're not easy to capture with a low-tech camera--I long for cool shots that show workings of wings, shapely silhouettes against sky and sea. I'll get one someday but only by accident--it's just a matter of clicks.

Meanwhile, there's the bird lady at Casperson Beach who supplies me with close-ups slow enough for my shutter. Every evening, she comes to sunset with a simple set-up--a folding chair and two loaves of bread rustling about in plastic wraps. The minute she sits down, swirls of birds arrive.

She treats them like children, scolding the big ones for pushing aside smaller ones as she tosses bits of bread torn from her loaves. "You be good now! Get away and let the little ones have a chance," she'll say. If they don't listen, she uses another tactic--holding back. Expectant, they stand stilll, riveted for the next toss. Some move slowly around the edges, jockeying for better positions. It's my time to shoot.

Suddenly, there's a burst, a flurry and bread bits fly thick and fast. The air vibrates with excited flapping and diving, dipping and devouring. The bird lady is joyous, thrilled to be surrounded by her friends. So much attention, so little time!

When she finally runs out of bread, they can't believe it. They stand about, the sun casting a glow on sand and feathers as it slips over the edge of the world.

Finally, worn out with waiting, one bird breaks ranks and the rest follow, swirling away down the beach.

The bird lady folds up her chair, satisfied.
Goodnight, Sun.
Until tomorrow.