An Artist’s Eyes Never Rest!

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“All artists are a little bit crazy!”   “Artists are different.”

Over the years, I’ve chuckled when someone looked at  my whimsical works and noted the difference in our personalities.

Yes, artists are programmed differently, and most of us rejoice that every waking moment is a gift!  Whether soaking in a sun-drenched street scene or admiring an alignment of  overhead pelicans or noting subtle color differences in a landscape, an artist’s eyes never rest!

When living in Costa Rica, I lived immersed in nature and marveled at the beauty that surrounded me.  I was also intrigued that most of the handmade products I bought were made in Ecuador.  Hammocks, pottery, linens, masks – Ecuador, Ecuador, Ecuador.   From my first exploratory visit,  Ecuador stole my heart!  I divided my time between Ecuador and Central America and eventually weaned full time to Ecuador.  There have been good times, and there have been bad –  Destructive tides, the evolution of ‘Casa Loca,’ Dengue and Chikungunya epidemics, light-pole painting competitions, impromptu painting sessions, visits to the oldest hacienda in the country, a wedding on the equator, shrimp harvests, floor-painting memories.   The April 16/2016 7.8 earthquake upturned the coastal area, and with a heavy heart I watched the ‘Casa Loca’ chapter come to an end.

Most of my posts feature light-hearted stories, though at times I poke and prod at much-more serious topics.  Deforestation and continued abuse of our planet’s natural resources remind me to speak up for those who have no voice.  Our planet is sick, and we are the ‘predator’ responsible; it’s time for all of us to remember that the other species deserve the right to thrive in their natural ecosystems.

This site will give you a glimpse into the life of the zeebra.  Hopefully you’ll emerge with a lighter heart!

Thanks for stopping by!  Z

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Can you hear me Major Tom?

(Portoviejo Ecuador)

My dear WordPress Family,

You must feel that I am as far above the world  as Major Tom.

(His Vincent cover is fantastic)

While the computer and wifi are catching the signal between Jupiter and Mars, I lassoed my scattered thoughts, stories and photographs to bounce off the back side of Mercury – and hopefully their trajectory will reach Earth.  Earth looks pretty scary from up here, and I am told that many species are asking what have the humans done to their paradise.

A surprise Friday protest near the museum about three weeks ago. (Portoviejo Ecuador)

I told my friend Giovanni that these young activists (in the above image) need mentors.  Anger reaches no one in positive ways. He replied and said, ‘I know a lot of those people.’

It makes people react in defensive mode.

This group might be equally willing to pick up trash along the rio while waving those same posters.   A grounded and sensitive leader can help them find an effective voice.

There is hope; a growing number of amazing people are crossing paths, moving forward in quiet ways in behalf of the planet.

There seems to be an uptick of positive young leaders – quietly making a difference.   I witnessed many people – young and old – who burn with the desire to learn and do more.

There have been World Environment and Global Big Day events. The municipality has showered these quiet activists with good publicity and opportunities for events.

One museum show ends.. and a brief one-day show the next week.

Giovanni Ruiz gave scholarships to 200 participants for a weekly climate class. He had just arrived from his ‘Ambiente’ job in Mindo (5-plus hours away) and set up just in time to start the class. Whew!

Giovanni peering skyward at a ceibo tree at ‘Jaboncillo’ archaeological site near Portoviejo.

‘The Tree of Life’ Arbol de la Vida/Esperanza – Various people in the park and municipality departments were shocked that my bird list for Parque las Vegas was around 90 species, and that I had photographed over 40 species of birds in this one forlorn Frutilla tree.

July 5, 2021 – 21 birds dropped in while I worked on the drawing.

Members of the municipality were rapt with interest about the birds. Daniel Arias, a bird guide/eBird moderator, specializes in Urban Birding.

Another meeting later that week. Alexandra Cevallos Castro (far right with mike)  deserves much credit for her networking – calling attention and arranging meetings between interested parties.  The wetland area of the park has reclaimed a healthier setting for the local and migratory birds.  I hope that the Soras return, and two weeks ago the Eastern Kingbirds were spotted near the pond.

Continue reading

Remembering Mary

” Arból de la esperanza, mantente firme “ – “Tree of hope, stand firm” -Frida Kahlo

Ecuador – Less than a month ago a friend lost his best friend to Covid, and I said to him, “There’s one more star in the heavens smiling down on us.” 

He found comfort in that concept.   This past week he presented those same words back to me, as I adjusted to the news of the death of my friend Mary McDonald.

Dogpaddling through a lovely collage of memories, I thought that our connection with art was the strongest link, and the images below show the unconditional love that flowed between us.

It takes courage to share works of art, especially when they are in progress, and Mary always invited me into her realm, which was one that I cherished.

Like a duckling in water, Ms. Mary made those pigments sing!

I once introduced Mary to the curator at the inauguration of a museum show. “Mary is an artist,” I stated. She later wrote me to say that my comment had startled her, and well, yes – yes indeed she was an artist! Until that moment, my multi-talented friend had not considered herself a real artist.   She stated, “Your positive comments to Alexandra has re-lit the flame in my spirit to pick up a brush again. For that especially, I thank you. ( my eyes are leaking)”

And my eyes are leaking now as I type.  Dear Mary  is surely smiling and watching over my shoulder.

The last painting I had seen of hers was one that burned in my memory – she wrestled the trauma of the 7.8 earthquake into an powerful work of art. I almost cried when she timidly showed it to me.

Terremoto -Renacimiento by Mary McDonald – Acrylic on wood, 58 cm x 58 cm

After the museum visit, she later told me that she thought, ‘Artist? Me?’ and then exclaimed to herself, ‘Yes! I AM an artist.’

“The strongest people find the courage and caring to help others, even if they are going through their own storm.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Even after trauma from the earthquake, John and Mary were forever doting on others. This photo was taken when they hosted a ‘thank you’ event at their home – and fed a crowd large enough to fill a small stadium!

 

On Tuesday evening, May 25, Mary realized that she was about to die and called for her husband John. He said that she did not panic but stated that she was dying and could not breathe. They had both agreed that a hospital was not where either wanted to take their final breath, and John held her while singing their favorite hymns until she weaned from one set of loving hands into the next.

When I told my friend, who had lost his dear friend the week before, he artfully presented my words of comfort back to me:  “…our friends are turning into stars in the sky…”

On beautiful Van Gogh nights, we can look up and find a new star smiling down at her loved ones.

Tipping Points

Processing.

Pondering.

Trying not to let WordPress challenges get the best of me.   

The post, almost finished, was in Classic format and suddenly zapped to another page. 

Finding the still-untitled post in drafts, I opened it- and it had been mysteriously moved to block format – now 8 minutes before the museum closes.   

Alas, the post is about fragments and challenges and how life sometimes seems like a queue of dominoes, all in place and ready for motion – depending on how it’s constructed.  The WordPress glitch seems appropriate.   

Thought it best to send an update;  all’s fine, busy with lots of projects and hoping that all of you are safe and well.  Replying to comments and even emails has been an ongoing challenge, but please know that all of you are loved and appreciated.  There is light at the end of the tunnel, but for now, many of us here in Ecuador remain in a holding pattern.  Poco a poco we move forward.

The post is a long one, and forgive all mistakes.  Time for the museo to close. Continue reading

Earth Week; Follow the Money – oops, Food

Follow the Money  Food

This past week brought a new generation of Smooth-billed Anis to Parque Las Vegas.    Residing in a small tree that grew along a lower area along the rio, it was easy to observe from almost eye-level vantage point from afar.   

I shared the images with a few friends and invited them to meet the new babies the next day.    

Life can change quite fast, and in 24 hours’ time, the park maintenance crew had altered the scene.  I was probably the only person who noticed, but oh, it was a visceral blow to the senses.

Wondering where they might have gone – or if they’d been hauled away with the debris, I watched for a while and saw one adult Ani with an insect in its mouth.  It perched for ten or so minute while calling often.   Eventually it flew to the muddy area along the rio.   Yes!  The babies found shelter along the rio at ground level, but their chances seemed slim.  They had little ‘refugio,’ for safety.   

The next day the adult birds with insects led us to the new hideaway.  Four grown anis shared responsibility for the babies and took turns delivering insects.  An impressive distance away, the babies were well hidden in tall grasses at the corner of the park.  Ah, I felt better about their survival, unless a cat or snake found them.

The next day they were AWOL again, and no sign of adults.  One appeared and perched along the rio.  With insect in mouth it called, then flew to the far side of the rio, called and moved from point to point, and finally ate the insect.  A second ani guarded the area of tall grasses, but never doted on a young bird.

I returned to the butchered tree and peered to see if by chance the young ones were there.  No, but there was a second smaller nest that I had assumed was abandoned — yet there was a small dark splotch when I looked skyward through the nest.

Yes!  A very young bird was there, and it appeared weak and extremely hot.   Soon enough the parents arrived – Tropical Kingbirds, owners of one of the sweetest dawn songs I’ve ever heard here in Ecuador.

The nest is now exposed to the skies, and the baby gapes at the sky when a vulture or bird or even a large insect flies over,  I want to warn it, ‘NO! Don’t open that huge colorful mouth and show your location!’

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One parent appears to do all of the work, searching for insects and feeding the baby.  Today it sat on the nest for about a minute, which gave the baby respite from the sun.   The baby appears to be getting stronger, and if it will surely pass on strong genes of survival – if it continues to adapt and survive.

After an absence for a day, one fast-growing ani re-appeared on the scene – back along the rio near its original position.   One adult doted on it frequently.  Yay!

The extra extra good news is that the organization responsible for the park has had several meetings recently about the birds in the park.  They were shocked that my list has grown to almost 80 birds, and they hope to do more plantings for the birds.   This week  – because of the ongoing butchering of some of the trees – they have asked me to give a presentation about pruning.  

I find myself often saying, “Esperanza.  Hope.” 

There’s hope for the future when people become proactive in nature’s defense.   I look forward to introducing you to some of them, but for now the internet options are very few.  Covid infections and deaths remain quite serious, we have a curfew again of 8 pm until dawn, the museo is again closed, and the park wifi is so slow that it takes half an hour to load the yahoo email page for the day!   Alas, my time is best spent in nature.

I’ve also spent five days in a holding pattern while another friend waited for a Covid test.  All negative, so we move forward slowly – and cautiously into year two of Covid.

While working on the photos, I thought, ‘This baby makes a good spokesperson for Earth Day.  We often think about what makes our world better without considering how those choices affect the natural world.”

Stay well and safe, and may we all remember to dote on Mother Earth in this next year.   I plan to pick up trash along Rio Portoviejo on the 22nd.   Do you plan to do anything special in our planet’s honor?

Two minutes before curfew, I publish this (without the first edit) and scram!

Sending you all love – all the way ’round the world.

Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

Count to Twelve

I often take my work to the park; we’ve had a lot of rain, and Rio Portoviejo is much higher this week than when this photo was taken in mid February.

Portoviejo Ecuador –  A friend is studying for her formal certification as a guide, which requires passing an English exam. She is a guard at the museum, and I happened to walk into the empty room while she was practicing phrases in English – and trying to decipher what she was reading.

I shared with her some of my blunders from the past; the ‘most famous’ one was when I declared – instead of being hungry – that I was a man. Hambre/Hombre. For one who stumbles with the nuances of sound, I instantly learned that lesson!

Tiene hambre?

Since no one else was in the museum, I pretended to be a lost tourist and asked her questions like, “I’m lost. Where is Parque las Vegas?” or “I’m hungry (!) – where is a good restaurant?” and “What time do you close?”

Most anyone learns – by rote memory – to count to twelve, but those ‘teen’ words can be extra tricky to master. Thirteen/Thirty – Fourteen/Forty – Fifteen/Fifty, etc. We practiced the difference, stressing the importance of pronouncing the final ‘n.’ Six-teen and Six-tee.

With a folder of Spanish-English quotes at home, I offered to print some for her and am now back at the museum.

The museum, when open, provides the best ‘anti-covid’ internet option for me, but oh my, sometimes the connection seems as slow as in the ‘old days’ of dialup! Poco a poco I make a little progress, and today’s was to share this with you.

The museo closes today at 3:30, so I’d best scram!  Enjoy the quotes!

Tonga! A Manabi specialty.

Nuestras vidas empiezan a terminar el día en que guardamos silencio acerca de las cosas que importan.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

¿Cómo es que la criatura más intelecta que jamás haya caminado por la tierra está destruyendo su unico hogar?”(Jane Goodall)

“How come the most intellectural creature to ever walk earth is destroying its ony home?”(Jane Goodall)

“Una persona que nunca ha cometido un error nunca ha intentado nada nuevo.”
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein.

“Las personas amorosas viven en un mundo amoroso. Las personas hostiles viven en un mundo hostil. El mismo mundo”.

“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. The same world”. – Wayne Dyer.

Joselo discovered a nesting bird (Pale-browed Tinamou) and immediately stopped his work.

“Ningún acto de bondad, por pequeño que sea, es en vano.” – Esopo.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop.

My friend Lise in a field of agapanthus near Hacienda Guachala.

This poem by Pablo Neruda makes a perfect closing. His vision is timeless.

Keeping Quiet
Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
………

Extravagaria : A Bilingual Edition – by Pablo Neruda (Author), Alastair Reid (Translator)
Noonday Press; Bilingual edition (January 2001) ISBN: 0374512388 -page 26

………..

Tiene hambre for more eloquent examples of the written word?  This week’s Brain Pickings provides a lovely dose of nature writings.   Go HERE.

Thank you, Birdwatching Magazine!

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The story about the Brown Wood Rail is now available on BirdwatchingDaily. Thank you, Birdwatching Magazine!

Ready, set…..
Leap!
I was drawing and looked up to see the wood rail approaching the water!
2019 – Two Brown Wood Rails allowing a rare private viewing of behavior.

Thanks also to those of you who shared tips on working around the new Block Editor. (The ‘Add Link’ does not seem like an improvement either!)

Some people have adapted and show us by example that adaptation works – but is there anyone who absolutely loves the new Block and prefers it over Classic?

See the story about the Brown Wood Rails here: BirdWatchingDaily.

https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/locations-travel/featured-destinations/encounters-brown-wood-rail-ecuador/

Updates from the Equator – Feb 2021

Redundant – Thesaurus: (adj) excess, extra, spare, supererogatory, superfluous, supernumerary, surplus, unnecessary (similar term), unneeded (similar term) 2. (adj) pleonastic, tautologic, tautological, prolix (similar term).

“And I think that before I shall have finished this work, it will be necessary for me to repeat the same thing many times over; so, O reader , blame me not, because the subjects are many , and memory cannot retain them and say: This I will not write because I have already written it; and if I did not wish to fall into this error it would be necessary , every time that I wished to copy something, in order not to repeat myself, to read over all the preceding matter, all the more so since the intervals are long between one time of writing and another .” Thoughts on Art and Life, by Leonardo da Vinci 22d day of March, 1508

Oh reader! There are stories to share, and the subjects are many! The topic of ‘redundant’ will follow at the end of this post.

Ecuador’s Flag

The people of Ecuador, much like in many countries, remain divided on who is the best candidate to take the presidential reins. As many predicted, Andres Arauz, who hopes to bring back ex-president Corea’s platform, promised $1,000 to many of the poor people. He received the largest majority of the votes, but Lasso – who was expected to receive almost as many votes, found ‘Yaku’ challenging him for that #2 spot! This reminds me of a photo-finish horse race!

Here is the official website link for an accurate summary:
https://resultados2021.cne.gob.ec

And a link to the Ecuador Times which has an interesting assortment of stories today.  Disconnect from politics in the USA and see what’s happening here!  Ah, drama! EcuadorTimesEnglish

Outgoing President Moreno has added a bit more drama to the show in what some say is wise – and others say not – concerning Ecuador’s Central Bank reserves. Here’s a link to the story in English:

Following an IMF directive, Moreno moves to restrict the use of Central Bank reserves, angering Arauz

I find myself wondering what John Perkins might say about all of this. If you’ve never read his ‘Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,’ it’s worth the time to listen to one of his talks.

OK. Now for the fun news!

Years ago in the USA I would drop off a new painting at a frame shop. Selecting mats and frames was never my favorite part – I was always happy to say, ‘Whew! Finished,’ and turn it over to a professional. Returning to pick up the framed painting, I would always be shocked to see how much better it looked with that professional touch. Wow.

It’s not so easy to get custom frames in areas like Poza Honda and the nearby town of Ayacucho! Franklin did a great job, even if the task of finishing each frame went to my hands.

If any of you subscribe to Birdwatching Magazine, the March-April 2021 issue should be in your hands soon. My copy reached my sister’s home this past week, and a VIP bird from Ecuador is featured in one of the articles. (Actually there are two VIP birds from Ecuador in that issue.)

Editor Matt Mendenhall and the Birdwatching staff transformed the Brown Wood Rail story in the same manner that a gallery uplifts the status of a work of art. Indeed, I am blessed! That issue is here: BirdWatching March/April 2021

The birding world has another special weekend approaching – The Backyard Bird Count. I’m not sure if I’ll be at Poza Honda or in Portoviejo at Parque las Vegas, but for sure it will be fun to see how many birds show up to be counted!

Assuring my friend Jorge (Poza Honda) that starting a WordPress site was not too difficult, I volunteered to help start one. Working from afar – and with slow internet and in public areas, I decided to toss around some ideas and later share with him. The new Block Editor, however, has made that task more difficult than expected. Every so often I find ways back to Classic through administrator and a little drop-down menu that offers Classic or Block – still a lot of steps between wanting to start a post and actually beginning! Later, after viewing the page in progress and going back to ‘edit’ mode, I find the Block editor waiting back at home base.

Makes me want to relieve stress with a hammer!

(From 2014 – a chuckle for Marie!)

In Classic I can upload as many images as needed – in one easy, ‘add image’ click, but in Block there are four clicks before the ‘upload image from file’ shows up. One photo at a time, and then the prompt to add another block, and four more clicks. Surely there are shortcuts? I found myself thinking, ‘Redundant. Redundant,’ as the work moved at a snail’s pace! Classic was such a breeze, and Block plays hide and seek. Working in public spaces – usually the nearby restaurant – and racing the laptop battery’s time allowance, it’s been a challenge! I sometimes wonder if I could hide in the museo and work all night while it’s closed!  (Don’t worry, I would not consider being a stow-away for the night, but it would be a nice option!)

The grumbling’s over, but I wonder how many others experience similar frustrations . It’s no longer a joy to visualize and then design a site and add posts – it’s a battle of egos, and Block editor seems to have control! Classic – for me – was much faster and without so many redundant steps.

Alas, struggles or not, I find a smile in my heart when each day is finished, and I send my thanks and blessings all the way around the world and into the heavens before falling asleep. I thank the angels watching over me – surely there are many! – and think of all of the people who have touched my life – and the list dominoes in all directions, including to all of you who provide online support, especially in these Covid times. Thank you all! As I state in the Birdwatching article, I am blessed.

Nature – a Tonic for the Soul

Jan. 16, 2021 Poza Honda – 8:30 A.M.

Manabi Province/Ecuador – Nature provides a tonic for the soul, but its benefits stretch far beyond what we can see. Sometimes I think that nature truly conspires to reward nature lovers with unusual sightings, and even in the city a person can find one-on-one moments with nature.

My friend Dady asked, “Lisa. How did you ever see that one bird way up high on that tower?” We were discussing the Peregrine Falcon, that often perches ‘way up there’ in easy view from her house!

My immersion in nature at Poza Honda provided many ‘firsts’ for me, and I realize what a great teacher nature can be – especially if the student is a patient one. The act of being totally present is perhaps the greatest asset, and when one is present, the whispers of nature can be heard.

How can one not adore the pygmy owls? Active not only at night but also in daylight, this petite species has shadowed – literally! – a large percentage of my outings at Poza Honda. While perfecting the art of stillness, they perch in easy view – yet sometimes only by chance do I see them. At times they appear curious, and other times equally serious about their food-gathering tasks.

When new to the area, I explored a plantain-lined curve in the road while a Pacific Pygmy Owl tagged along like an obedient pet! I surmised that my presence triggered the owl’s curiosity. Captivated by its solemn stare, I studied the new-to-me species with equal intensity. An impromptu photo session stretched into a visual-rich memory, which transports me back to that sun-drenched day when the owl inspected its new neighbor.

The Pacific Pygmy Owls often perch on a specific dead branch high in the tamarindo tree, easily seen from the living area of the casa. Usually one lone bird selects that specific perch, although a second – and every so often a few young ones provided rare family portraits.

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At dusk several years ago, a pygmy owl appeared from ‘nowhere’ with a surprise strike on the palm thatch overhang of the roof then darted to a limb near the house. Bits of shattered dried palm drifted through the open windows, and I wondered, ‘What was THAT?’ As the twilight hour waned to darkness, the owl feasted on its prize – a grasshopper almost as large as its petite 6″ body.

A rattling noise once stopped me motionless while walking along the road. Much like a rattlesnake, the sound emerged from almost ground level in dense surroundings. Peering, squinting, moving slightly left and right, I located the source of the sound – or thought I located the source! A pygmy owl stared back at me. Not one feather appeared to move, yet the rattling came from that same location. A-HA! The photographs captured the moment, but I need no photo to recall the the size of that big grasshopper. Was the grasshopper extremely large, or did its presence illustrate the pygmy owls’ tiny size?

 

Nature’s evolutionary pest control comes at zero costs, as long as the delicate balance thrives. Every single organism plays a role, and humans often forget to consider long-term impacts. What happens when the owls’ habitat is destroyed? What happens when the mouse-eating owls and snake-eating falcons lose their habitat?

When I return to Poza Honda, I mentally prepare myself in case of new changes to the landscape. I was there on the 16th of this month, and yes, the cutting continues. The caustic noise of the city can be irritating, but the sound of a chainsaw would have grated on my psyche even worse. While birding with Joselo, we viewed one freshly-cut raw section straight across the reservoir.

Joselo (above) was probably wondering, ‘When will she mention the new area of deforestation?”


I commented,“Oooh. That must have been difficult to witness – and hear. Did this last for days? Did you all think of me while this was happening?”

“Yes,” and he chuckled about the last question – they were surely glad that I was not there, as it would have been near torture to witness those changes one tree at a time.

My most-recent pygmy-owl encounter happened on that same day, while birding with Joselo, Luis and the newest Poza Honda fan, Giovanni. With maybe a tennis court’s length to cover before finishing our serious bird census, we were seconds from seeing a precious owl. Peering from a man-made hole in a bamboo pole, it provided a perfect finale for our day. (Five birders /split into two Covid-respecting groups/88 species total for the day.)

Working late at night, my art advances one study or painting at a time – and sometimes two or three in various stages. The present painting in progress (alliteration!) is called Happy Birds – a study of Saffron Finches splashing in a puddle of water. Pencil offers an easy balance against the intense painting sessions. Painting is work; drawing is meditation.

detail – “Happy Birds” – acrylic in progress (Saffron Finches)

Time in the city presents challenges; the greatest one is noise pollution.  Sometimes I play recordings made at Poza Honda when I paint at night, and I’m sometimes surprised when I take a break – and realize that I’m in the city and not in Poza Honda!

Visits to the nearby parks provide a true balance – immersion in nature, and nature continues to bless me with unexpected sightings. A few Eastern Kingbirds continue to patrol the edge of the river in the late afternoons, and the little Sora cowers in the most-neutral corner of the pond. The Sora allows me to sit within a few yards and observe its behavior as it forages back and forth along the shallow edges of the water. I think it realizes that my presence keeps the gallinules from wandering too close! I offer protection while it provides viewing pleasure.

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The grounds keeper oversees a big project and does a remarkable job managing his crew. He’s also realizing the importance of the pond’s habitat, and this past week I found the perfect word to stress that importance: Refuge. The Soras have little refuge. Many of the always-present egrets and herons are now absent, and I told him of another recent VIP visitor that stayed for only one day. 

How lucky was I to witness this bird’s brief visit?

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Between Poza Honda and his home in Chone, my friend Luis Saltos stopped at the park in hopes of viewing the Green Heron or the Eastern Kingbirds. “It’s early in the day for viewing the kingbirds,” I warned. We took turns watching the river area while the other circled the pond in hopes of seeing the Green Heron.  After two visits, Luis was rewarded by the Eastern Kingbirds.  Just as he was about to depart for Chone, the kingbirds appeared.  With a childlike wonder and awe, Luis managed a barely audible, “Eastern Kingbird; that’s a life bird for me….”

He wasn’t interested in adding one new species to his life list; he was there to witness and admire a rare bird for this area of the country.  

We are all indeed blessed by birds if we merge quietly into their world.

 

Grateful for Nature’s Surprises

Manabi Province/Ecuador – Are you house-bound/weather bound and wistful for a dose of nature?   If so, take a cyber trip to the equator and go bird watching with me!  It’s as if the birds take turns in presenting new surprise sightings!

Surprise migratory birds along Rio Portoviejo!

Parque las Vegas/Portoviejo Ecuador – Another migratory species has veered to Manabi Province instead of traditional vacation options.  The first day these black and white birds appeared, I was without my camera. Joining a mixed flock of seedeaters, Saffron Finches, doves and Tropical Kingbirds, they dotted the unkempt edge of Rio Portoviejo, which borders the park. They seemed to be having an end-of-day gathering – or perhaps an early celebration for the end of 2020.

I thought, “Variable Seedeater” – but no, they were larger than seedeaters, and their behavior was like a flycatcher’s.

I thought, “Becard,”  but no, the behavior was wrong.

I briefly considered, ‘Snowy-throated Kingbird,’ – but no, the coloration was all wrong.

It certainly wasn’t a Masked Tityra, with the right colors below but not on top.

I made a few sketches, but could only see the basic details – white throat and belly with contrasting dark/black upper areas.

A second brief glimpse would follow the next day around noon.

I often check on the lone Sora, which now claims a quiet corner of the pond as its hiding place.  Throughout the day the petite bird forages back and forth for the little red ‘fruits’ that fall from the overhead trees.   It sometimes cowers as close to the ground as possible when a gallinule approaches.  Do you see the Sora in the image below?

Even when I watch it fade into its environment, it becomes invisible to my eyes.  After the gallinules leave the area, the Sora re-appears and resumes foraging – or begins splashing as if to celebrate another hide-and-seek victory!

Two Eared Doves and one Sora

I often marvel at how small it is, and wonder if its body would fit into my cupped hand. The Eared Doves are larger than the Sora!   For size-comparison, I placed my Fieldbook near the Sora’s typical path along the water. The Sora acknowledged and then completely ignored the book and allowed a photo session.

Saffron Finches, Parrot-billed Seedeaters and Eared Doves also prefer this shady area of the pond.

While watching the Sora, I peered to the treetops and found one lone stranger with the  Scrub Blackbirds, Saffron Finches and Tropical Kingbirds.  I took a hurried photo before the bird darted to another location.

The first photo – not good – of a mystery bird with an all-white belly and dark upper.

With no luck finding any more mystery birds, I returned home, worked on photos and then checked online for more information.   Armed with research material and camera in hand, I returned to the park in the late afternoon.

“Eastern Kingbirds are blackish above and white below. The head is a darker black than the wings and back, and the black tail has a conspicuous white tip…They spend winters in South American forests, where they eat mainly fruit.”  from Cornell Lab’s All About Birds

The map is extremely helpful in this Fieldbook for the Birds of Ecuador

…except that this map for the Eastern Kingbird shows that these birds are way off their normal route.  Manabi Province is on the western side of the country.

As they were the day before, there were at least six along the river.  These seemed to have an appetite for insects, and three allowed me to observe them from close range until they roosted – with mixed species – at the end of the day.

This one’s tail feathers are quite worn!

These mysterious birds might represent omens of hope!

Exhausting the camera’s battery, I enjoyed watching the various species interacting in a mostly-dead tree that I nicknamed ‘The Tree of Life.’   It might be unsightly to most humans, but it is a bird magnet.

13 birds – six species in this Riverside Tree of Life.

The next day I uploaded my checklist to eBird.  As I expected, eBird tossed back a prompt for more information, as this species usually stays on the other side of the Andes.

Enjoy watching their migratory movements on eBird’s Abundance Map.

(If this is not an Eastern Kingbird, maybe someone can help with identification?)

This is a good time for birding in the park;  many species are visible and highly active as our rainy season slowly begins.   The mango trees are producing a bumper crop, to the delight of the Blue-gray Tanagers.


The endangered Grey-cheeked Parakeets have also graced us with their presence.  This species reached the endangered status because of illegal capture for the caged-bird industry as well as the ongoing destruction of their native habitat.

Sometimes confused with the green and blue Pacific Parrotlet, the Grey-cheeked Parakeets have a splash of orange beneath their wings. The grey cheek, of course helps with identification if they stay still long enough for those details to show.

Pacific Parrotlet

The Parrot-billed Seedeater definitely deserves the rights to its name.  These precious birds remain plentiful in the park – as long as the maintenance crew allows naturalized areas to thrive.  On this day the birds were pulling the seed heads down, then holding them with one foot while eating the seeds!

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The iguanas along the river maintain a relaxed attitude.  They seemed to be completely neutral, illustrating that one can observe but not get caught up in the quarrels between others. They were almost regal at the end of the day as if to say, ‘Ah!  We’ve earned the rights to be calm and relaxed.’

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“Calm and relaxed” – I think that artists were given an extra dose of genes that help us to be calm and relaxed.   My nephew Don once stated, “We make choices every day of our lives,” and he is right.  I am grateful to have the ability to see my cup overflowing and not ‘half empty.’   I am grateful to have had an abundance of creative projects that keep me occupied and positive during this pandemic.

Spending time with nature also helps strengthen those traits, and I remain grateful that Nature continues to shower me with surprises.

Surprise Migratory Kingbirds along Rio Portoviejo!

As this year comes to an end,  I am hopeful that 2021 will bring an abundance of positive experiences to everyone.

Eastern Kingbirds, Welcome to Manabi!

Happy New Year to all!

Love, Lisa

Soras on Vacation

Manabi Province, Ecuador – One lone migratory bird has selected Portoviejo’s Parque las Vegas as its winter-vacation destination. Yay! Welcome back, lovely Sora!

This Sora’s extended visit to Portoviejo stretched from January 2020 until March 21, the last date I last saw this one, which was one of three.

A year ago, the park provided ideal habit for the Soras. Of course they would want to return!

Few people of the area know of this rare migrant, one that does not present risks, one that travels without a passport, yet passes through six or more countries in order to be a Manaba in residence for the next three or four months!

Cornell-eBird’s Sora ‘Abundance Map’ for 2020.

This eBird map shows recorded sightings from January through December 2020.

With anticipation, I’ve been watching the park weekly in hopes that the Soras’ return.  If more people knew of its possible return, might they help to be sure it had comfortable accommodations? Could the Soras become the darlings (mascots) for the city of Portoviejo?

Photos of the newest visitor show natural geometry in motion!

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“Soras are common and the most abundant rail species in North America. Although Sora populations are stable, they rely on wetland habitat that is dwindling due to urban and agricultural development. Soras migrate at night and frequently collide with lighted towers during migration, which could potentially affect the population. Sora hunting is legal in 31 states and in Manitoba and Ontario, Canada, but the popularity of hunting Sora has declined in recent years and it is unclear if hunting has any significant impacts.” – from All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Sora/overview

Although many reference sources note the Sora’s ‘yellow candy-corn bill,‘ the Purple Gallinule’s brightly colored beak better resembles the candy of my childhood. I loved that colorful candy when I was young.

I once consumed the entire contents of a bag, and well remember biting off the very tip, then the middle, and finally the broadest part – one tiny candy after the next. Tucked into a cool spot of the back-yard gardens, I overdosed on those colorful candies and was violently ill – then immediately well again. My love for Candy Corn instantly evaporated!

“The Sora, especially on migration and in winter, is often satisfied with small marshes, heavily vegetated ponds, and even grassy ditches. Simply walking the edges of such areas in April or September, or in more southerly areas at any time in the winter, can turn up birds that would otherwise go undetected.” – from Bird Watcher’s Digest

Jan. 26, 2020 – the first bird appeared here. I thought it was a juvenile gallinule!

After discovering three ‘Soras on vacation‘ last January at Parque las Vegas, I soon learned that their presence was quite rare for Ecuador. Ecuador and Peru mark the southern ‘limits’ of their migratory habits, though most find accommodations in closer range.

 

(Sora Abundancy Map – image from Cornell/eBird December 2020)

eBird, a citizen-science website, continues to fine-tune its data. This past week they showcased a new option, which instantly fascinated me. Typing ‘Sora’ into the species box, I marveled while watching the ebird sightings map for this species come to life. Watch this: SORA – Abundance-map Weekly – You’ll see that few Soras select Ecuador as their winter vacation destination.

Who knows what nudges migratory birds to return to their home base. Maybe the sun’s placement in the sky plays a role. During the Covid lockdown, the guards at Parque las Vegas allowed me to check on the Soras, which remained in the park until March 21. “Buen viaje, precious Soras!” Did the March equinox trigger their departure or was it coincidence?

According to news reports, smoke from wildfires and September’s early freeze were linked to the deaths of thousands of migratory birds. Soras were on the list of casualties.  ‘Bird Die Off in Colorado  

The snowstorm caused starvation for many birds in the Southwest. See:  Audubon

See the iNaturalist site for the Southwest Avian Mortality Project.  https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/southwest-avian-mortality-project

With concern for the three darlings that visited Parque las Vegas, I hoped that they would return. When the crew of workers scalped the vegetation earlier this month, I then wondered if the Soras might stop, note the changes and potential dangers, and keep moving until finding a new vacation spot.

The park last week

I looked down and was surprised to see the Sora!

Yay! It decided to stay around, lack of cover and all!

Seeing the new ‘lone’ Sora puts joy in my heart, yet the absence of the other two presents new considerations. Were those three birds a family? Friends? Do Soras migrate in large groups and slowly divide and spread? Why do some stop in Central America while others keep moving south? Are they like people – traveling in a group and scattering depending on their whims? Maybe some are more intrepid than others; some want to know what’s around the next bend? Are they loners while on migration? Alas, there are so many questions, which make me wistful for an old-fashioned public library, crammed with reference material or the ability to request specific books!

My ultimate concern for the other two Soras left me wondering: did they die from starvation after the sudden change of weather, or had hunters claimed them for a prized meal?  Maybe they were adapting along the nearby Rio Portoviejo.  

Adult gallinule chasing a dove.

The Sora does not hide too well here.

The Sora suddenly became more alert.

From the nearby circle of hyacinths, the juvenile gallinule dashed for the Sora. The Sora was faster, however.

This lone bird tolerates my attention, yet its survival skills remain on high alert. I now realize that the Purple Gallinules represent a great risk. Last week they chased a lone blackbird that landed in the hyacinths, and they often harass the Eared Doves. Two times in the past week I’ve watched a juvenile gallinule attempting to capture the Sora. With so few places to hide, the Sora remains on the edges of the pond, but unlike the gallinules, it flies with ease. Quite small, it blends with available cover and at times – even when I watch closely – it seems invisible.

Checking several times each week, I returned on December 16, and again on the 20th. Also of interest are the Masked Water-Tyrants and their easy-to-photograph nest.

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“Before…” (March 21, 2020)

“After” —- December 2020

On December 16, the Masked Water-Tyrant nest looked different. With lack of cover in other areas of the pond, the Striated and Tri-colored Herons and a Neotropic Cormorant crowded the space. The grand-father iguanas often swim to the island and bask motionless for hours. The islita became a life raft when cattails and other options were removed. The caption on one of my photos of the water-tyrants states, “Tyrants do not seem happy today.”

The Tri-colored Heron and the Striated Heron share the back side of the islita.

‘The water-tyrants do not seem happy today.’

A Sora-check on the 20th brought a new disappointment. The Masked Water-Tyrant nest was gone. Both islitas had been scalped and new circles of water hyacinth transplants dotted the pond. The large circle of water hyacinths sported a new shape. None of the birds seemed happy, though they adapt. The Sora had migrated to a shady far corner of the pond. I avoided the center area and focused on the Sora.

Two Common Gallinules peer from the edge as if to ask, “What has happened?”

This was difficult to view…

“Before” —

“After” — The Sora migrated to a quieter section of the pond.

The Green Kingfisher and Striated Heron veered to higher perches.

“Before….” June 2020

“After…”   December 2020 – The species adapt.

I returned on the 21st to photograph the sun’s shadow at noon and hoped that one of the resident birds would provide a few candid solstice shots. Cloudy conditions prevailed, although several species  entertained me with interesting poses.  The sun made a brief fifteen-second appearance between 12:00 and 12:01, as if to acknowledge my expectations of the noon hour.

Snowy Egret – 12:01 pm

Purple Gallinule ‘fishing’ for water lily fruit. 12:01

12:05 – Back to cloudy conditions, but the Snowy Egret continues to entertain. It caught a crayfish!

12:07 – The Tri-colored Heron pirouettes while chasing minnows.

The Masked Water Tyrants, now free of their parenting duties, seemed to have dismissed their grief and resumed their normal behavior. Singing and dancing while flitting from spot to spot, they provided a great example of moving on. There were lessons here that extended far beyond my concern for the birds.

I wondered if the lone Sora felt isolated, vulnerable or if it missed its companions. I wondered where it slept at night, and if the neighborhood cats might prey on any of these birds. The ‘Sorita’ foraged within a few feet of where I sat on the earth near the edge of the pond. Totally ignoring me, it remained on alert for the gallinules. A juvenile and an adult approached the far side, and the Sora, in stealth mode, scurried in the opposite direction. Rounding the next bend, it resumed its foraging behavior, unaware that both gallinules approached.  I moved uphill for a better view of both species.

Still unaware of the gallinules’ presence, the Sora fluffed and rested in the new growth of the papyrus. Both gallinules closed the distance, and feeling the Sora was outnumbered, I tossed a few marble-sized rocks toward the gallinules.

Ker-splash!

 

The gallinules quickly switched their attention to the splash, but the Sora did not.

I tossed another, and then another and stated, ‘Danger! Danger!’

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The Sora spotted the gallinules and immediately flew to the scalped islita! Yay! Within a few seconds, the gallinules passed through the Sora’s previous hiding place, then continued along the edge of the pond. Whew.

Was I wrong to interfere?

The islita’s mass of old roots and debris offers adequate cover for small birds. Larger ones can easily soar to safety. The area will regenerate quickly. The cattails take longer to reach maturity, but the new foliage grows fast and offers cover for small birds like the Soras and Wattled Jacanas. The Green Kingfishers instantly migrated to higher tree-top perches. The birds have no ability to protest or grumble. Adapting, they learn how to find new food or nesting options. They dodge the predators.

The Masked Water-Tyrants’ cheerful behavior was by far my greatest lesson for the month.  We cannot reclaim what’s lost -so we adapt, adjust and move forward. If we’re looking back, we can’t see where we’re going.  These dancing and singing fluffs of black and white set a great example.

Beginning stages of a watercolor study.  Masked Water-Tyrants

The birds have become some of my best teachers. Nature adapts, as will I.

The Yin and Yang of Life

“He who has seen the intimate beauty of nature must become either a poet or a naturalist and, if his eyes are good enough and his powers of observation sharp enough, he may well become both.”     Konrad Lorenz

Portoviejo Ecuador – A petite wetland anchors a corner of Parque Las Vegas, which provides an easy respite from the more-hurried pulse of the city. A half-hour timeout at the park provides an important dose of Vitamin D as well as an upgrade from the pollution from city traffic. My half hour almost always extends to one or two hours, and I return home with a soul re-boot.

Can you find the Striated Heron?

The Patient Striated Heron

The Purple Gallinules roam the entire pond as if their colors grant them royalty status!

Three Generations of Purple Gallinules

Nature almost always offers a private show, which sometimes reveals its darker side. I often wondered why the Common Gallinules cowered on the far side near a thick border of cattails. They blended into the deep shadows, and every so often a little black orb of a baby moved just enough to betray its presence.  I assumed that they were cautious and doting parents, unlike their cousins the Purple Gallinules that paraded their multi-generation clan in easy-to-view locations.

The bashful Common Gallinules on the far end of the pond.

On alert – Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule retrieving Water-lily fruit

A perpetual evolution of the more-colorful species provides easy viewing from the walkway that bridges the pond. Half-grown juveniles, that were babies only a few months earlier, help feed the newest generation. Where the Purple Gallinules tend to five or six precious orbs of big-footed black fluff, the Common Gallinule adults dote one one or two.

Common Gallinule and Chicklet

These two species illustrate yin and yang – the moon and the sun, the feminine and the masculine, cold and hot… The Purple Gallinules aggressively patrol their section of the pond; their babies roam a vast marshy playground of Water Hyacinths.  The more-bashful Common Gallinules retreat to more-distant areas and avoid conflicts.  The babies shadow the parents, almost always swimming – and never roaming too far from the cover of the cattails. 

The images that follow show the Purple Gallinule chicklets in various activities.

Two fast-growing chicklets with one juvenile. (Purple Gallinules)

Oh, it must feel great to stretch those fast-growing bodies! (Purple Gallinule)

They look as if they feel they are royal children and entitled to rule over their kingdom!

Dining on just-retrieve water lily fruit.

The territorial adult and juvenile Purple Gallinules dart and dash after Wattled Jacanas and Eared Doves that encroach on their turf. The more-peaceful Common Gallinules keep a low profile.

The Purple Gallinules provide easy observation of all phases of growth, yet the Common Gallinule babies appear for a few weeks and then vanish.  I’ve never seen a juvenile of the latter species.  Usually two appear, bashfully peering from the shadows or clinging near the parents.  A week or so later, only one can be found – and then nothing, until a few months later when the cycle repeats.

The Purple Gallinules often dash after the Wattled Jacanas, which seem to enjoy the impromptu scrimmages!

Three Striated Herons guard various sections of the pond.  Maybe they line up to observe activity in the gallinules’ arena!

The adorable Parrot-billed Seedeaters

Nature sometimes provides moments of insight. One day the Common Gallinules paraded their young one to the “yang end” of the pond. Several generations of Purple Gallinules roamed their home turf. Green Kingfishers darted from cattail perches to spear unsuspecting minnows. Striated Herons lurked in strategic shadows and awaited their next catch. The wary Wattled Jacana perused the shallows in its patient search for food.  A Great Egret added its elegant presence to the setting.

Striated Heron

Great Egret

One day in September of this year,  I watched the Common Gallinule family swim to the yang end of the pond.  They provided easy photo ops as they meandered into a narrow funnel of water that curved around the back side of the water hyacinths, where thick cattails provided ample cover. The little baby stayed near the adult in front, and then vanished into the thick protection of the water hyacinths. The adult continued forward, and the baby remained absent from the scene.

Warning – this story turns ugly.  

Suddenly the gang of Purple Gallinules dashed in the direction of the baby, and the next few minutes solved the mystery of what happens to the baby Common Gallinules.

The idyllic scene turned into a brief-but brutal slaying ground, where the parent bird attempted to defend the little one. Those big feet serve not only to walk on floating debris, but also to fight and kick. Outnumbered, the parent bird watched as a cluster of adult and juvenile Purple Gallinules chased and caught the little one, which broke away three times and dashed for safety – until the final catch – by a juvenile, resulted in its death. The entire group of feathered savages participated in the battleground feast, while the parents of the murdered chicklet nervously watched from a safe distance.

Do birds experience grief?

I now understand why the Wattled Jacana maintains an alert status while foraging the floating corral of vegetation. I understand why the doves bolt for safety when a gallinule suddenly darts in their direction. I understand why the Common Gallinules lurk near the cattails on the yin side of the pond, and why the babies swim close to the parents.

I felt physically sick for another day. The stunning beauty of the Purple Gallinules no longer seemed as brilliant. They allowed a glimpse into their true nature. How could I have adored them for so long without ever realizing their darker side, their true nature?

There were lessons for me that extend beyond the gallinules; it’s so easy to be blinded by the pretty side, to chose not to see the ugly side.  How does one remain neutral and not judge.   Is it best to acknowledge the good and the bad, adjust one’s perception, yet agree that we all have the dark and the light? How can one species be so peaceful while its cousin displays a barbaric side? The gallinules easily personify human nature.  I turned inward to process these concepts.

PART TWO

“The very idea of “managing” a forest in the first place is oxymoronic, because a forest is an ecosystem that is by definition self-managing.” ― Bernd Heinrich, The Trees in My Forest

At the end of November I visited Parque las Vegas for my dose of Vitamin A and nature; approaching the pond, I noted changes and altered my pace. Workers were clearing the cattails on the ‘yang’ end of the pond. Moving closer and scanning the scene, I saw workers scalping all vegetation on the ‘yin side’ where the Common Gallinules found solace.  They had cleared almost half and were taking a break.  Nearby one man moved a water sprinkler, and his choice of attire suggested that he was in charge.

He said that the vegetation was being cut for the health of the pond and its water; I asked if it all had to be cut, and he provided the easy reply, ‘It will grow back fast.’ I attempted to tell him about the migratory Soras which visited last year, and that they might return any time. Their presence was of importance, not only to that little pond and Portoviejo, but for the entire country of Ecuador. (He did not seem to be interested!)

I pointed to the ‘little islita’ in the middle, the one where the ‘little black and white birds had a nest’ and asked if he would spare cutting it. He nodded, and I thanked him, then walked to the bridge to photograph the Masked Water Tyrants and note the progress. One bird was on the nest, while the other displayed its normal flighty and nervous behavior. 

Not wanting to witness the removal of the rest of the vegetation around the edges of the pond, I returned home and thought it best to avoid the park for a while.

“The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.” Piet Mondrian

Two weeks passed before I returned to the park and its marsh-like pond. The altered landscape would assault my senses, and I dreaded the return. I hoped that the man in charge honored his word to spare the islita.

This past Sunday after a weekend of intense painting, I awakened with a strong sense of anticipation. “Go to the park,” my inner voice nudged.  After nine hours of sleep, my body was still tired and protested, “But I’m still exhausted.” Painting is sometimes like giving a transfusion and leaves me drained, and it sometimes takes a few days to recover after a serious session.

I noted the strong ‘nudge’ again – and paid attention. “There’s something there to see – and it’s not a common sight,” I thought, “and if I don’t follow this sense of urgency, I’ll always wonder about what I missed.”

Packing drawing materials and camera into my bag, I headed for both parks in the area. The petite park by the museum has an interesting tree that deserves a serious sketch. Considering a stop there first, I thought, ‘No. Go to the segua now.  The tree can wait.’

Slowly recovering from its scalping, the little wetland no longer had its natural appeal. It looked like a generic and sterile garden where its human occupants feared close contact with nature. A dark blue-grey heron waded the shallows where the cattails once stood on the yang end of the pond. Caramba! Instant gratification! The Tri-colored Heron is common on the coast, but not here. The absence of vegetation allowed easy photos of this medium-sized heron, and a Wattled Jacana posed nearby for comparison in size.

This Tri-colored Heron seemed to be taking a vacation from the beach and brackish waters! For the next half hour I photographed the resident birds. The Common and Purple Gallinules shared the hyacinth area in harmony while a new generation of Purple Gallinules explored their playground. Striated Herons lurked along the water hyacinths while a Green Kingfisher, also robbed of its preferred cattail options, perched sky high in the treetops!

The Masked Water Tyrants’ islita remained untouched, and one stayed on or near the nest while the other replicated its normal behavior – gleaning insects and flitting from various areas then reporting back to the nest. Three Parrot-billed Seedeaters landed briefly on the papyrus before flying to new locations. Their preferred native bushes provided seeds, but those options were now absent, as was the nesting ‘fluff’ from the cattails.

I realized that I was being too protective; the park was a park, and it required maintenance. I had told the crew boss that’s why God gave us men and women – many hombres prune with a less-sensitive eye.  On retrospect,  maybe the difference is between creative types and non-creative ones, or simply ‘sensitive or insensitive’ people.

“Artists cannot help themselves; they are driven to create by their nature, but for that nature to truly thrive, we need to preserve the precious habitat in which that beauty can flourish.” – William Morris/textile designer

The Tri-colored Heron, my prize for the day, flew to the yin end of the pond and provided more easy photos. It spooked another bird which flew low over the water and landed at the islita and triggered my ‘bird alert’ senses. I’d seen that bird shape and flight behavior before, and I hoped it was the visitor from the northern hemisphere.

Yes!

A Sora was back!

Double Caramba!

Without seeing it fly to the base of the papyrus, I would never have spotted it at the water’s edge. I scanned the scalped perimeters of the pond and wondered if all three from last year had returned. If so, where were the others, or did they chose to resume their migration in search of better habitat?

After a few minutes, this one flew to a small circle of water hyacinths and quickly vanished into its dense leaves.  My concerns returned.  Will the cattails regrow fast enough to provide a safe hiding place for this Sora and others?   Was this petite bird one of the three that visited a year ago?  If so, was it surprised to find the altered landscape?  Will the Sora become easy prey to the predatory gallinules?  Where will it sleep at night?  Will it remain in the pond or will instincts nudge it to better wintering grounds?  

La Gringita the observer considered this tiny bird, and like the Brown Wood Rails wondered why she felt so protective of the species.  Who would speak up for them if she didn’t?  Did anyone else care about the welfare of the resident birds?  Will man ever learn that sometimes nature has a right to its own rhythms, or to prune half and let it recover before pruning the other half? There are many sensitive stewards on this planet, yet there are also many who do what’s always been done – because that’s what they know.

Some things will never change; the predators will pounce on the victims; man will whack back nature, many times without pondering the short or long-term effects. Nature teaches us, however, to adapt and bounce back. We move forward, one day at a time, quite like the cattails and the Soras.

Remembering…

“The intense focus of art often transports me through a magic portal; time seems to stop as if I’ve stepped into another realm. Sometimes after a long session I am surprised to find that the day has weaned to night – or the night has weaned to morning.  Emerging from a painting trance is like awakening from a deep sleep.” Lisa B.

I have always painted best at night, especially in the city when late-night hours are even more silent than the natural forest!  The ongoing Covid risks have altered the rhythms of the city, and for that I am grateful.  After ten o’clock at night, the city slumbers.

October Big Day Night – Pacific Pygmy Owl – Poza Honda

Barn Owl – Portoviejo (at the back of the apartment there’s an abandoned building, and the owl often sleeps there in the daytime.)

In Poza Honda, three species of owls,  random frogs, insects and the faraway calls of the Limpkins provided a soothing nocturnal soundtrack.  When I paint in the apartment, I often play recordings made at Poza Honda.  Many times I emerge from my painting trance and am surprised to find that I’m in the city!

A Peregrine Falcon often perches on that tower.

In progress – “The Friendship Tree of Life.”

Friday night while painting I thought of two brothers who were classmates of mine. Flashing back in time, I pictured them taking turns skiing behind their boat. The vision was as strong as if it were yesterday, and it made me smile. I recalled their zest for life and how much they loved the outdoors -as did I.

The Mississippi River at Memphis – (Lake Whittington is an oxbow lake that connects to the Mississippi River.)

On Saturday a friend shared the sad news that one of those brothers had died while in the woods. (most likely a heart attack.) Steve was a good man – a very good man, and he will be missed.

Steve and his family were on my mind for the rest of the day – and night. Painting had no appeal, but my lifelong pal the pencil served me well. The pencil study seemed to absorb my numbness, and a pair of Variable Seedeaters slowly came to life.

Below is ‘stage one’ of the drawing, “Remembering Steve.”

“Remembering Steve” – 4B Pencil

(Because I am online in short and random sessions, Comments are off.   One day/week/month I’ll be able to catch up on comments.   Thanks to all of you for your support – you’re the best!   Love, Lisa)

 

Quiet Reflections on Thanksgiving Eve

Portoviejo, Ecuador  – Thanksgiving wears a different mood this year.  I think about the many families who have lost loved ones to Covid, and I think of others who are disappointed or discouraged about skipping their traditional Thanksgiving gatherings.  Life has a way of slamming us – at times – to a halt, sometimes prompting us to take note and realize the importance of others who have touched our lives.   People in the birding world adjust to the news of a beloved icon who died this past week while on a birding trip in southern Ecuador.

“The birding world lost a luminary on Sunday, November 22, when Edward S. (Ned) Brinkley died during a birding trip in southern Ecuador.

Brinkley, 55, was two-thirds of the way through a month-long trip in the South American country, according to a Facebook post from Field Guides Birding Tours. He was on a trek to “seek one of the country’s most charismatic specialties, the Jocotoco Antpitta.”   Matt Mendenhall via tribute at Birdwatching Daily: (Matt Mendenhall/Birdwatching Daily)

Portoviejo, Ecuador  – The year of 2020 seems to wear the shoes of a very-tough teacher, one that presents pop tests and time-out corners. In keeping with my usual Thanksgiving tradition, I will share token servings of a Southern USA cornbread dressing with random neighbors. This year’s batch will include green plantains for a true ‘Mana-ssissippi’ blend of ingredients and cooking styles.

I am so very grateful for the kind neighbors who keep a watchful eye out for the gringa. The owners of the restaurant allow me to use their internet and sometimes take a two-hour break and lock me inside while they run errands or go upstairs to rest.

I find myself reflecting on my many blessings, especially the ability to embrace long periods of solitude. It’s as if life prepped me for these Covid times, and I have yet to be bored or restless. Looking backwards with wisdom, I am grateful for every experience, each one washed in subtle layers much like a watercolor and results in the most sensitive and original of paintings – a study of one’s life journey.

Quito Botanical Gardens

At times I careen backwards in time to the sprawling rambling rose bush that anchored the western edge of my parents’ front yard. Probably stock from Grandmother’s gardens on the far edge of the county, it outlasted the picket fence that slowly atrophied beneath strangling vines of honeysuckle – which housed hidden nests of red wasps and provided magical corridors of safety for the cotton-tailed rabbits. On hot sultry summer days, I often took my soiled and ragged stuffed bunny and crawled beneath the donut-shaped canopy of that rambling rose. Round and round I circled until content to sit cross legged with just enough clearance above my head, and there I sat motionless – waiting for nothing, yet watching and observing and I suppose incubating. Perhaps I was practicing to be an artist!

Upper area of a painting in progress – Acrylic

A soft pinkish color tinted the yellowish-white clusters of the rose blossoms, and I often plucked a few sprigs from the arched and thorny branches. Sometimes with ‘Pinky Rabbit’ in hand, I settled into my little nest and peered beyond the branches. That safe cool sanctuary buffered me from a world that moved forward, and sometimes that world presented demands that I was not agreeable to accept. I basked in its balm of the ancient rose’s serenity. I now marvel to have never tempted the anger of a poisonous snake which most-likely preferred similar solace from the summer’s heat. Surely my own guardian angels signed up for a mammoth challenge when they agreed to watch over the baby of the family.

A new museum opened this past week – without the traditional bells and whistles. The historic home has a small gallery area, and the first three-month show features art of local color.

Sometimes LIfe introduces us to beautiful and lovely new people…

She lost most everything after the earthquake, but she had a ‘pluma’ and ink.

Time to clock out of the later-night session at the restaurant,as their last clients just left and it’s closing time!    I wish you all a peaceful Thanksgiving!

Enjoy the video of the ‘Sweet gorilla’ inspecting a wounded bird.   It would be lovely if all intelligent creatures on our planet displayed the same goodness.

No time to proof – all mistakes are definitely mine!

Love, Lisa

Swimming Lessons

2014 -View from Amtrack – somewhere between New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta…

In the summer of my sixth-grade year I traveled by train from Mississippi to an all-girls camp at Tallulah Falls Georgia. The price of food on the train was a shock, but the rest of the visit provided a new and inspiring experience. The formal tennis lessons were easy and fun, as were the canoe instructions. Riding horses ‘English’ style was new, and I can still recall the owner chuckling when I – the barrel racer – asked if we could ‘lope.’

Cabalgata in San Vicente Ecuador 2012

A new friend Sally and I cherished our free time, and we often explored the wilder areas, scrambling up the cascading streams and picking wild blueberries. I remember the letters from home – and chuckle that my mother said that my somewhat new horse had thrown my brother-in-law when he tried to ride her bareback. Her letters almost always had interesting news, and I still recall those stories with a wistful smile.

Isla Corazon/ Ecuador 2015

Art projects were fun, as were the campfires and group singing. Although I could swim pretty well, I appreciated the formal lessons to master the American Crawl, the Butterfly and the Sidestroke. I don’t remember one thing about diving lessons, but perhaps I blocked that experience out because of a backwards-flip accident in my past! The ability to tread water and lifesaving exercises were greatly appreciated.

Purple Gallinule swims without disturbing the water

The experience that still burns strongest was “Parents’ Weekend.”   My parents lived far away, but Sally’s parents drove up from Florida.   The camp instructors selected Sally and me to display tennis skills.  They also selected me to participate in synchronized swimming. We trained for the latter event, and I thought that I might drown during those practice sessions!   

Do you see the adult Purple Gallinule and the baby?

The baby gallinule followed its parent, but the short outing turned into a marathon of swimming!

I remembered a time when I also lacked grace in the water!

I remembered a time when I also lacked grace in the water – and was wistful to be back on dry land!

On Parents’ Day, I did not drown but suspect that everyone spotted the lone swimmer who struggled from start to finish!  Transport her to the horse arena, por favor – English tack and all!

Relief!

Holding to that swimming-performance memory, I share a video that my friend Dady shared with me. You will understand why I am reminiscing about my time at summer camp!

So calming, and in these times we need a lot of ‘calm.

Global Bird Weekend and More!

Manabi Province, Ecuador – The approaching weekend brings us two birding events – October BIG Day and Global Bird Weekend.

A just-finished birding tower at Poza Honda; the local policeman stopped by to visit!

As my Colorado friends remain silent as they witness the Cameron Peak Fire, I will keep them in my heart while spending the weekend at Poza Honda.

The image below is from 9news.com Read about the fire, starting here – ( https://www.9news.com/wildfires )

I nudge you all to spend a little time with the birds – and nature – this weekend. We so often take our natural landscape for granted, and it’s heart breaking to witness our planet’s signals of distress.

If you have not seen Nemonti Nenquimo’s letter to world leaders, please take time to read her heart-felt plea. I cried – and most likely many others have as well.

This amazing woman opens her letter by stating she is a Waorani woman, and “… I am a Waorani woman, a mother, and a leader of my people. The Amazon rainforest is my home …” – Go here: “This is My Message to the Western World.”

Yellow-rumped Cacique inspecting Mucuna Flowers

Saturday, October Big Day is for observing and sharing the bird-observation data with eBird, and the Global Bird Weekend (this is the first year) – is about sharing your photos, drawing, experiences – while also being sensitive to others regarding Covid risks.

*(This year’s t-shirt design featuring the Brown Wood Rail)

The outdoors is a perfect place to social distance, and I definitely look forward to breathing some very-pure air at Poza Honda! Heading there tomorrow!

Signing off and sending love to you all,

Lisa (PS – this new WP platform took me through many redundant prompts, even for uploading an image. Is this truly better and more streamlined than Classic?!)

WHOOPS

I have to laugh.

That mustang of an epistle fired out of the gate just minutes after it was pasted into the WP format, and while I was searching for the images.   I wrote it last night, went to sleep and have not edited it at all.

The WordPress format showed a new ‘red’ attention-getting notice to ‘Refresh connection with Linkedin’ which I did – and I suppose that prompted the “Publish’ option.

Perdon!  The post was totally unedited, so I will follow now with images and other links.   I also intended to mention this approach to the equinox.   Years ago I remember reading that ‘more storms are spawned on the September equinox than any other day of the year.’     I have no idea if it’s true or not, but the Atlantic seems to be extremely active during this period – especially this year!

September 2019 – How the world has changed since last year’s Killa Raymi Equinox ‘Girls’ Trip.’ What a serene experience.

After brushing the blues into the still-wet white, I left for a walk in the park.

Always great to look down and see something looking up! Ah, we share this world with all species, but often we forget about them.

Portoviejo Ecuador

I poured the gifted sangria into a pretty glass! In the background is the wall sconce which needs something higher to balance against that white space…

The LinkedIn page just popped up to confirm the WordPress connection.  Will we have to do this with every new post?    Ah WordPress, things were just fine before these changes!

The pizza box…

Two coats of acrylic ‘roofing paint’ and then some fun hurried swirls of paint. So very easy!   Next I taped the edges to reinforce the shape.

The left-over mirrors from past projects… and a little heavy-duty glue…

Allowing another day for the mirrors to ‘set,’ the Pizza Van Gogh is ready to hang!

Dady also shared this cover of Starry Starry Night.

Here’s the Kathy Mattea SERFA talk:

and the Hope for the Galapagos fundraising page – go HERE.   (Updates needed for anyone who can provide info to what’s happening now.. the laptop battery is almost depleted!)  I found this ABC news link from this month:  ...Fleet Still Near Galapagos

Now I’ll hit ‘publish’ – and should be back online tomorrow or Tuesday.

Love to you all,

Lisa

 

Buffered.
After staring at the blank page for the umpteenth time, I thought, “Buffered. I’m slightly buffered from the outside world which continues to get a bit crazier each week.”
Starts and Stops.
So I stare at the blank page and wonder how to start a post, when several have been written off line – and are waiting for time online to juggle photos and perhaps the new format on WordPress. I ponder what was written and think, “No. These are not the times for sharing ‘What I did or read or saw this week’ posts. But you need to write something to acknowledge you’re still alive and well.”
Circles.
So I go in circles – never finding the right words for these strange times we’ll call ‘The Year of 2020.’
Sometimes music can lift the energy of a room, even a faux room like this blog post that connects us across the globe. Let’s start with this star-studded Stay Home Live Lounge video from BBC Radio:
Live Lounge Allstars – Times Like These

These past few months find me a bit altered; all is fine in my self-contained creative world, where I dodge the city’s noise pollution by painting at night – sometimes all night – and sleeping all morning – sometimes until mid afternoon! Painting is going well, and I am presently working on two complicated and demanding mid-sized paintings. I remain amazed at how ‘doing absolutely nothing’ except breathing, blinking (or not blinking) and holding a paint brush can totally deplete my energy – but it does. Sometimes I go to sleep at 2 in the morning – and other times I might stop and cook pancakes (!) and paint until four or even six. When I do stop, I always sleep well – eight hours and sometimes up to twelve. By evening I’m ready for the next session. Or a book. Recently I read again Corelli’s Mandolin, and this time the details about the war and politics seemed a bit spooky – that perhaps our species never learns from history.

Restrictions are lifting here in Ecuador, though I think that many people remain cautious and suspicious of that new freedom. Covid plays hardball, and I am glad to have limited interactions with the general public. The easy walk to the park offers an important dose of vitamin D as well as interaction with nature. The outings are always worth the effort, traffic fumes and all, and the mandatory mask helps screen the pollutants.

I sometimes take my computer and stop at the restaurant on my return, and the restaurant is often empy during those late-afternoon hours. With several almost-finished WP posts ready to publish, I place my order, sit at the corner table and log onto the internet. Sometimes I check emails first, and othertimes I check the news. There have been challenging hurdles regarding paperwork and emails with government agencies which – because of Covid – often take months for a reply. I was told in February, ‘Three weeks,’ and that was after a year’s wait. Those challenges are tiny compared to what many people face in this bizarre year that hurls new surprises each week.

Recently the owner of the restaurant called my attention to the news on television and stated, “Mississippi.” That was when Hurricane Laura was approaching the coast. (Or was that Sally?)
One hurricane after another seems to be barreling across the Atlantic; this week there are so many disturbances that the satellite images look like Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night. Those early-warnings help save many lives, though the tropical storms and hurricanes leave a wake of destruction. Electricity, water, shelter – and so many displaced people.

While slow-moving storms drench some areas, scenes of wildfires leave me almost physically sick – how horrible it must be to see fires like that in the distance – or approaching way too fast. Given the mandatory evacuation orders, my Colorado friends benefited from an abnormal cold front which doused the approaching fire with snow. Others not so lucky only received the winds which fed the fires. To those of you in California, Oregon and Washington, I hope that you and your loved ones are fine – it must be a huge worry throughout the fire season. The protests and riots were bad, and now this.
The various news sources and videos capture the good and the bad side of human nature, especially the bad these days. The USA seems to have become a country divided, and we are in need of peacemakers – lots of them!
In her 2017 talk, How Music Saved My Life, Kathy Mattea opened with a story about music and its effect on human behavior:
” …I did a workshop with Bobby McFarrin the great jazz singer, and 120 of us gathered together and we stood in a circle and they divided us into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses and they would come around – and give just an improvised part in the moment – to each section – and we would keep singing as the next section came in and the next section came in – and then, Bobby McFarrin would improvise over us … and then somebody else might take the mike and somebody might change the bass part – and then change the soprano part and stop the tenors and then do a whole other section and the thing would just keep morphing — and we would do this for 12 hours a day… We did this from 9 in the morning until 9 at night…
“…about day three or four – you just find yourself standing there (sniff sniff) singing and crying, singing and crying and you’re like ‘I can’t even believe this!’ and he looked up about day four or day five and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty amazing isn’t it – singing together is just such an amazing thing – I keep wondering, you know, what would happen if – every time Congress met – for the first thirty minutes they had to do this… I wonder how it would change the course of history.'”
Kathy Mattea Keynote remarks and song – SERFA 2017
For those fluent with ‘the oldies,’ look for her cover of The Ode to Billy Joe.

Three or so months ago a young university student and I were talking about Covid; he is studying to be a pharmacist, and two of his brothers are doctors. On the television were scenes of USA protests about masks and restrictions. He said, “I used to think that people of the USA were the most intelligent people on the planet. Now I don’t think so.”
His parents own the restaurant – (which is my office away from home.) About a month later we visited again, and I said that Covid was a lot like a Trojan Horse, and I asked if he knew that story. (Of course!) He replied, “I don’t think so. It’s not sneaking in – those people are opening their doors and inviting it inside.”

I have suggested to him more than once that he should consider taking some courses in philosophy, as he’s a natural!

I think that seeing things from a distance sometimes helps, but then sometimes one has to be right there to truly understand the issues. Sort of like being in the bullring as the matador and not in the stands… yet one can also think about a co-dependant relationship, and one sometimes cannot see what’s happening until being able to step away. It’s sometimes hard to see things from different tangents. These are challenging times.
When one ponders all of the people in this world – each with a specific story and lineage and history, and all of us learning as well as teaching through actions and behavior – we are either adding something positive or something negative or maybe neutral. This planet is one very-complicated organism, and here we all are on somewhat of a pause mode – or the Timeout Corner. Will we have grown in our compassion for our fellow man? Will we emerge with the same attitudes, the same concerns, depending on our personal interests?
As for me, there are some concerns about not-so-good news some might have not heard about:
Galapagos /Chinese Fishing Fleets… friends Stephen and Xiomara started a Go-fund-Me project.
Via The Watchers, https://watchers.news/2020/09/16/bird-die-off-new-mexico-2020/
which links to articles from these respected sources about a”Bird Die Off – New Mexico” The iNaturalist link is a citizen science site with reports and images.
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/southwest-avian-mortality-project
https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/14/us/new-mexico-birds-died-migration-trnd/

By the time I’ve scanned the news, loaded hurricane updates to read at home – three in three weeks for those aimed at the Texas/Louisiana/Mississippi area – the tired battery for the laptop has usually shut down for the session. I return to the apartment with a browser full of open pages, downloaded videos, interviews and some music sessions. If I am lucky, the browser doesn’t crash.
My friend Dady stopped by a few months ago to hand me an unexpected gift – a personal-sized bottle of fresh sangria! Wearing masks, I stood at the door and she stood on the sidewalk and visited. Recently she and her sister shared a take-out pizza, and they volunteered to take the box to throw it away. No, I smiled, I would like to use it to illustrate something I wrote a few years ago. I showed them the booklet with my reply to Hugh Curtler regarding ‘Are Poets Mad.’
” – …but at the moment I swatted the thirty-fourth mosquito I realized that WHY I was hanging out the window and scrawling the moon’s image on the back of a takeout pizza box …”
I told them that I had been wanting to paint a small picture of a moon to go behind a wall sconce – with mirrors glued to the painting to reflect the candles – and that box would be perfect for that project!

As the third tropical disturbance ‘Tropical Storm Beta’ aims toward the Texas/Louisiana/Gulf Coast, I leave you with the almost-finished Pizza-box Art and Lianne La Havas’s cover of a classic song that seems appropriate.
Thank you for hanging with me – and for understanding my long period of silence. This long epistle surely balances against all of those weeks of ‘nada.’
Would the peacemakers please step forward? The planet needs every one of you.
Love,
Lisa

Ecuador’s Independence-Day Weekend – a Short Outing to the Park

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Portoviejo EcuadorAugust 8/2020   Strong afternoon light provided an easy excuse for a stroll to Parque las Vegas after five this afternoon. Several blocks before the park, a dozen street cats posed for a portrait session. A dear older lady feeds those cats – and five times as many pigeons each afternoon. Her kindness warms my heart.

P3080222 the earthquakes legacy and pigeons

The earthquake-damaged city of Portoviejo slowly rebuilds.

 

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With many more restaurants now open for business, the well-fed iguanas need no more special attention at the petite park across from the museum. Still closed to the public, this small park offers established plantings, a gazebo and small fountains, and an alamanda-draped pergola.

P3050466 look up iguana

From June 2020

 

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The Plumeria and Royal Poinciana trees’ flowers caught my attention, though my goal was the larger park – surely busy on this Independence weekend.  (August 10 is the official date.)     Keeping my camera tucked inside my bag, I observed various small groups enjoying an outing in the park.

P2970367 portoviejo parque las vegas empty mar 21 almost noon

March 21,2020 – empty exercise lanes in park

A lone man sold inexpensive kites at the intersection beside the park, and several people flew their kites from the amphitheater’s highest point. A gaggle (!)of young boys pedaled their bicycles along the exercise lanes at full throttle; each one wore the socially-responsible face coverings. I considered pulling out my camera but decided to take my own visual snapshots to imprint that scene to long-term memory.

P3080385 LOST BALL

Today the water hyacinths claimed someone’s ball!

Two more youngsters kicked a soccer ball across a vast expanse of concrete.  Already built like a long-distance runner, one agile child sported official soccer attire, knee-high ‘stretchy’ athletic socks and serious black running shoes. About six or seven years old, he illustrated a seriousness about his sport. I wondered if he would one day become a world-famous soccer player!

P3080244 5 pm light at the segua

 

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The late-afternoon sun provided dramatic light for admiring and photographing the various species. The Neotropic Cormorant, Striated Heron and Purple Gallinules competed with the lone turtle for my attention.

P3080336 5 pm light at the segua purple gallinule JUV and lily fruitP3080337 5 pm light at the segua purple gallinule JUV and lily fruit GOOD LIGHTP3080347 5 pm light at the segua purple gallinule JUV and lily fruitP3080563 5 30 LIGHT GALLINULEP3080533 5 30 LIGHT GALLINULEP3080564 5 30 LIGHT GALLINULE

P3080441 5 pm light at the segua TURTLEP3080462 5 pm light at the segua TURTLEP3080492 5 pm light at the segua TURTLE

Content after half an hour of communing with the aquatic residents, I began my return trip.P3080585 TEA PARTY FOR FOUR

A ground-level picnic caught my attention, and I glanced in that direction. Four women. Fresh flowers. A white china tea pot. A straw mat. Already passing them, I paused and asked permission to photograph them.  They invited me closer.

 

I asked if they were celebrating Independence Day? (No…) or a birthday? (No… We live nearby and are just out… We do this often…)  We talked briefly about the earthquake – still imprinted on the people of Manabi.   I commented on the flowers and the beauty of their setting.   One lady pointed to another and said, ‘My sister gets credit.’

They all get credit, as each person contributed her own serenity and natural beauty to their outing.

P3080589 TEA PARTY FOR FOUR2P3080591 TEA PARTY FOR FOUR

P3080592 TEA PARTY FOR FOURP3080593 TEA PARTY FOR FOURP3080594 TEA PARTY FOR FOURP3080595 TEA PARTY FOR FOUR

“You are all artists!” I said to them and motioned to the flowers, the mat, the easy and natural style of their entire setting. “You have provided a gift to my heart and to my soul,” I thanked them again and left them in peace.

Not planning to be out tonight for internet, the finale with those four beautiful women prompted me to go home, write this, process the photos and share them with all of you.

Hopefully their little tea party has warmed your hearts as much as it did mine!  I’ll end with a fun closing – the selfie while walking down the hall… It too made me chuckle!

P3080214 jajaja selfie in hallwayP3080215 jajaja selfi w big eyes in hall

Still doing well, gracias a-Dios!

Happy Independence Day to everyone in Ecuador!

Lisa

 

Art, Meditation and Cooking

P2530760 bamboo leaves

“Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so you must let go of your subjective preoccupation with yourself… Your poetry arises by itself when you and your subject become one.” Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694)

Sunday, July 12 – Portoviejo Ecuador – After a check on the iguanas in one park and the gallinules in another, I returned home with a handful of bamboo leaves for reference in an 8″ x 8″ design. Drawn a few weeks ago in ink, this textile design was scanned to the computer then fine-tuned to make it ‘seamless’ on all four sides. Printed on card stock, it was ready for a second more-painterly option.

P2990128 beets beet leaves

The cutting garden includes beets purchased at the market then planted for their fast-growing leaves.

Each day I simmer a batch of ‘tea,’ made from dried guayusa and stevia leaves as well as fresh ginger, turmeric and ‘Cuban’ Oregano. (Spreng – Plectranthus amboinicus) Some days a jalapeno adds a fiery change, and other days various sprigs of just-clipped mint or basil add fragrance to the brew. This was a hurried batch, as the bamboo study awaited my attention.

Just beyond the kitchen I retreated to a light-filled work area, where the watercolors and bamboo leaves replaced a just-finished acrylic experiment on a scrap of ‘reject’ vinyl flooring. A not-too meticulous wash of Naples yellow and a brighter yellow would unify the bamboo design, then more layers of color would define each leaf while the center vein remained untouched. Watercolor usually works best when working from light to dark. This I know.

P2540046 Bananaquits y Bamboo cropped Acrylic

Bamboo leaves and Bananaquits – painted last year

“Learn the rules well, then forget them.” – Basho

The little 8 x 8 design had other plans and quickly seized control and demanded that I reach for the white acrylic (NOOOOO! No acrylic allowed on those brushes dedicated for watercolor!) um, I repeat: I reach for the white acrylic (no!!!) and float a wash across the entire still-wet design. I obeyed the design’s wishes, and since I was using a cheap purchased-nearby brush, it was a guilt-free choice.

When finished, I was directed to dip into the tropical blue latex house paint, which I knew would darken as it dried. Mixed with a very strong-willed Winsor & Newton Cadmium Yellow acrylic – and the still-wet white, the pigments floated and fuzzed into background imagery, painted directly across the once-distinct leaves in the foreground. What a mess, but a lovely mess which had a clear end-result in mind. So long watercolor and hello mixed media!

P1090300 COFFEE CUP I NEED A WIFE

Sorry; I did not consider photographing these stages. The camera was at the other end of the apartment!

Switching between pure white to white with yellow to blue and yellow and back to white, the various layers of the design found more depth. When completely immersed in the painting process, I realize that time seems to vaporize as if I am in a dream-like trance. Every so often something might awaken me, like the sudden realization, ‘The tea!’ Continue reading

Never Outgrow Simple Delights

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for…. In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” – JOHN LUBBOCK, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In

P3050915 VIEW OF WESTERN SIDE OF SEGUA

A petite segua/marsh-wetland area anchors one corner of Portoviejo’s Parque las Vegas.

Portoviejo Ecuador – Totally content with several creative projects, I had no need or wish to leave the apartment, except for a visual check on the rapidly-growing Purple Gallinule chicks. A visit two days earlier provided ample photos to record the recent changes; those five little balls of black fluff resembled gawky pre-teens dressed in entirely-different attire. Much like their older (and quite-responsible) adolescent siblings, they sported buff-colored plumage with a distinct star on their foreheads. That frontal shield will eventually turn pale blue against a bill which resembles a giant kernel of candy corn.

P3050538 PURPLE GALLINULE BABY GROWING UP TESTING WINGS

The Purple Gallinule babies are growing up – testing wings!

P3050136 juv and baby gallinule baby w wings up

Juvenile Gallinule feeding the youngest generation.

Not as talented as adults at locating the water-lily fruits, the juveniles struggle to locate then fish for the sunken fruits. Nervously pacing across the lily pads or climbing higher to peer into the clear water, they remind me of a long-ago swimming/diving game we played: Match! (Do children -and adults – still play that game?)

P3030774 JUV GALLINULE SEARCHING FOR FOODP3050512 JUV GALLINULE Y LILY FRUITP3050513 JUV GALLINULE Y LILY FRUITP3050514 JUV P GALLINULE WITH FRUIT

P3040257 ALONG COMES THE JUVENILE

P3050532 JUV Y BABY GALLINULE

Juvenile with the fast-growing younger sibling.

Having mastered the art, an adult bird quickly locates and retrieves a fruit. With fruit in its bill, it chatters while racing across the water hyacinths and lilies. Hearing the unique dinner bell, the babies and juveniles gather for their next feeding.

P3030836 LOOKING DOWN PURPLE GALLINULE LOOKING DOWNP3030837 LOOKING DOWN PURPLE GALLINULE GETTING WATER LILY FRUIT cropped imageP3040235 YAY PURPLE GALLINULE RETRIEVES WATER LILY FRUITP3040245 GALLINULE FRUIT BILL DETAIL

Two Wattled Jacanas forage in the same area of the petite pond. Skittish, these mild-mannered loners walk across the floating vegetation. Never aggressive, they are, however, often targeted by the Purple Gallinules. Quite protective or perhaps territorial, the gallinules sometimes stalk and othertimes suddenly chase the Jacanas. The Jacanas take flight and land just out of range, while the gallinule retains strict control of the nursery site!

P3050841 JACANA GALLINULE Y HERON 2P3040031 wattled jacana y lily pads

Last week I considered a quick check on the fast-growing baby gallinules. Having spent hours working on photos from the previous outing, I preferred to stay home and work on projects. Like an urge to raid the refrigerator for another serving of cheesecake, I often felt a nudge to check on the birds. Having learned to pay attention to those subtle nudges, I set out for the park, the gallinules and an important dose of Vitamin D.

 

With a working title of “Looking Down” for my next show (who knows when?!) I now pay closer attention to random wild vegetation as I walk along the streets. Rank growth in empty lots often presents a bounty of material, from ‘Pigweed’-amaranth to delicate sprays of flowers still waiting identification. I recently spotted a rank weed with large faded bell-shaped flowers, quite similar to a species in Mississippi! Could Jimsonweed grow here as well? Of course it could! In addition to checking the Purple Gallinules, I now check the Jimsonweed/Datura between the apartment and the park!

P3050439 datura jimsonweedP3050438 datura jimson weed

P3050456 LOOKING DOWN GROWING UP WHAT WILDFLOWERP3050441 datura jimson weed

The little cat-tailed edged pond provides the bonus for these outings, and even from afar it presents a visual balm to the soul. Extra-large in comparison to the kingfishers, gallinules and jacanas, one lone Great Egret adds an elegant touch to the scene. Unbothered by the humans, it wades in slow-motion stealth in its perpetual search for fish. Sometimes it allows a close inspection of its catch!

P3050914 ONE EGRET Y ONE COMMON GALLINULEP3050070 GREAT EGRET solstice fluff

P3060208 great egret catches fish portoviejo

In three short weeks, the young gallinules evolved from tiny balls of black fluff to smaller versions of the juvenile birds. They often tested their still-developing wings, flexed in brief yoga poses or paused for amusing (to me) splash sessions. Much more independent in a week’s time, they foraged and explored their water-hyacinth kingdom – until a juvenile or adult announced a feeding session! The birds provided ample photo ops, as did the Green Kingfishers, Wattled Jacanas and a few lazy iguanas!

P3040043 SPLISH SPLASH BABY GALLINULE

P3030706 GALLINULE SPLISH SPLASHP3030422 LOOKING DOWN KINGFISHER FEMALEP3050392 solstice noon hour iguanasP3050271 iguana w green eye shadow

Normally punctuated along various sections of the pond, three Striated Herons careened into the scene. Two landed in easy photo range, and the other flared to a more-distant location. Barely moving, I hoped for much-better images of this shy species. For the next five or more minutes, these handsome birds provided a subtle-yet spectacular show.  Enjoy the simple delight of watching these two beauties via this slideshow:

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After seven or eight minutes of ‘My feathers are prettier than yours,’ the herons declared a truce and resumed their ‘wait and search’ foraging behavior.

P3050700 STRIATED HERONS FLUFF FEATHERS FEST

P3050705 STRIATED HERONS FLUFF FEATHERS FESTP3050706 STRIATED HERONS FLUFF FEATHERS FEST

With hundreds of photos to process at home, I pondered this finale of observations. Were those two birds courting, or was one (the adult) displaying an alpha status to the younger one? I looked forward to studying the images at home and learning more about the Striated Herons. Quite sated and basically overdosed on photographing the birds, I prepared to leave. The birds, however, plotted one more diversion!

P3050007 common gallinule y iguana note scale size

P2990182 gallinule common

Common Gallinule

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Striated Heron and Common Gallinule

More bashful than the Purple Gallinules, the Common Gallinule often lurks just out of good-photo range. Swimming in an un-hurried manner around and through the water lilies, it paints a serene and idyllic living picture. Sneaking from its ‘preferred’ larger section of the pond to the water-hyacinth area, it swam and foraged not too far from the footbridge. I ducked as low as possible and crept closer along the far side of the bridge. Seeing a human in pursuit, it would quickly swim and fly out of range. As if conspiring with the Striated Herons, it paraded first in one direction, paused then reversed, which allowed photos of its other side. It then bolted for its preferred location, via a quick flight beneath the bridge to the far side of the pond!

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Much more-rewarding and long-lasting than a slice of cheesecake, the outing enhanced the quality of my day with a jackpot of simple delights. So many birds! So many close-up views! So little time to capture them on paper or canvas! (I need a dozen lives!)

Happy Independence Day to those of you in the USA.   Stay proactive, and may we get through this with as much grace as possible.   I should be back online on Sunday, and as always, the laptop battery just announced the 10-percent warning!

Love to you all!  Lisa

“In my youth I knew the delight of watching the beauty, wonder and mystery of the natural world unfold before my developing mind; as when one who has climbed to a mountain-top in the night watches the dawn reveal the glorious panorama spread out before him. I have never outgrown that delight, and I hope that I never shall.” – Alexander Skutch / “Delight in Nature” – Thoughts/Volume 6, August 5 1972

The Canary

Canary: a songbird, Serinus canaria, greenish to yellow in color and long bred as a cage bird. Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary

P3030540 SAFFRON FINCH yellow

Saffron Finch – Sicalis flaveola

…Regarding miners using canaries:  “Why was a canary Haldane’s suggested solution? Canaries, like other birds, are good early detectors of carbon monoxide because they’re vulnerable to airborne poisons, Inglis-Arkell writes. Because they need such immense quantities of oxygen to enable them to fly and fly to heights that would make people altitude sick, their anatomy allows them to get a dose of oxygen when they inhale and another when they exhale, by holding air in extra sacs, he writes. Relative to mice or other easily transportable animals that could have been carried in by the miners, they get a double dose of air and any poisons the air might contain, so miners would get an earlier warning.” – from The Smithsonian – The Real Story of the Canary in the Coal Mine.

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Saffron Finches at Parque las Vegas – Portoviejo Ecuador

Portoviejo Ecador – A New Moon AND the June Solstice arrive tomorrow, along with an extra bonus – an eclipse! I hope that all of you reserve time to observe the sun’s shadow at noon as well as its placement on your GPS slice of the planet at sunrise and/or sunset. I plan to spend the noon hour watching the sun’s placement on those fast-growing Gallinules at the nearby park!

P3040357 LOOKING DOWN JUV GALLINULE

A noon shadow like this would be fun! (from June 19)

P3040273 HONEY BEES IN WATER LILY FLOWER

 

A headline from the last cyber check renewed my concerns about pesticides and honey bees and our fragile planet.  50 Million Bees Poisoned/Croatia.    (I have not had time to check this information.)

With important job criteria, bees play an important role in pollination and maintaining the sensitive balance between species. Many times when peering into those gorgeous water-lily blossoms, I am comforted to see the honey bees flitting from plant to plant. The bees and small seed-eating birds often present a reliable ‘warning system’ – when their numbers reduce – or if they suddenly disappear. I’ve witnessed that at Poza Honda, after applications of pesticides for broad-leaf weeds on pasture. The Seedeaters and the Honey Bees were the “canaries.” Seeing firsthand makes one a believer.

P3040566 VARIABLE SEEDEATER

Yesterday at the park – One lone and very-welcome Variable Seedeater!

We too are exposed to the same chemicals that sicken the small creatures. The cattle eat those same grasses, and we drink the milk and consume the beef. How long does it take before a human eventually reaches a saturation point and also becomes ill? It varies person-by-person, and who could be sure that random pesticides were the reason for one’s poor health? We must keep a sharp eye on the canaries – especially the bees – and pay attention when a normally-healthy species suddenly becomes sick.

P3040598 SAFFRON FINCH SQUARE

This post now veers to a very long story about my own role as ‘a canary.’ Continue reading

The Stunning Purple Gallinule

P3010891 ADULT GALLINULE NESTING

Reinforcing nests…

“There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.” – Robert Wilson Lynd

P3000434 PURPLE GALLINULE FORAGING FOR lotus while two immatures stretch and preen

Adult Purple Gallinule and Juvenile

With long yellow legs and exceptionally-long toes, the Purple Gallinule paints the wetlands’ landscape with its handsome presence. Quite skittish in most settings, this species has adjusted to the presence of humans in the nearby Parque la Vegas in Portoviejo Ecuador.  It joins a small cast of feathered occupants that claim this petite little man-made marsh not far from my apartment. (I suspect that it was built on earthquake rubble.)  For the past two weeks I have visited the ‘segua’ often to record the rapid growth of the newest generation of Purple Gallinules.

P3030331 PARQUE LAS VEGAS SEGUA

P3020237 june 9 baby gallinule big foot

Baby Gallinule, what big feet you have!

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The better to scratch my itchy face with!

The new chicks provided a grand surprise when they made their appearance around the first of June, and I try to return often to record their growth. I’ve learned why sometimes the water lily leaves appear disturbed; the adults and juveniles search for and retrieve the sunken flower heads, fish them to the surface with their bills, break off the center then race while calling for the young ones to ‘Come eat!”

(Slideshow of Gallinules in perpetual motion!)

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The babies also nibbled on Water Hyacinth flowers throughout the day – between feedings of the ripening fruits.

P3010016 june 4 baby gallinule peering into water hyacinth flowerP3010008 june 4 baby gallinule with water hyacinth flowerP3020265 june 9 baby gallinule in a playground of flowersP3020244 BABY GALLINULE EATING WATER HYACINTH FLOWERS large file

A week later the adults began foraging for a second prized morsel: Crayfish – aka ‘crawfish’ to a Southern girl! It took several photo sessions before I could identify what small item the birds guarded in their bills. The babies race to the parent bird, which breaks the crawfish into bite-sized morsels and doles them out much like a priest at communion! Continue reading

Quiet Times of Reflection – and Art

“… Blacks and Native Americans share one thing. Native Americans had their land stolen, and their culture systematically crushed. Blacks – it’s the opposite; they were stolen from their land, and they had their culture systematically crushed. We can’t begin to imagine what it takes to come back from that…” – Greg Iles – excerpt from 2017/National Writers Series interview –

About a year ago the National Writers Series interviewed Greg Iles about his new book, Mississippi Blood. Last night while working on a pencil drawing, and the discussions about racism in Mississippi provide timely insight.

Start at minute 55 and listen until for five minutes, and decide if you want to start at the beginning.

For the past eight days I’ve been visiting the nearby park as often as possible – to record the rapid growth of five Purple Gallinule ‘chicklets.’
Here is a (slideshow) peek at those precious babies:

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With ample reference material, I prepared mentally to paint this beautiful species. Going through the hundreds of photos, I grasp tidbits of information about the birds – understanding the nuances of behavior or the tilt of the head.  Eventually it’s as if I know my subject extremely well. It’s a bit like an incubation – and Greg addresses that same process in the interview. When the time is right, BAM – you’re off and going at full throttle. My only wish during that intense burst of creative energy (focus?) is that nothing stops the process until the work is finished. Returning to a ‘cold’ work is difficult; the essence evaporates.

This study is different however, but if possible even more intense! Instead of drawing the outlines in pencil and then switching to paint, I am using a 4B pencil for a pencil portrait of the baby gallinules.

Last night I worked from 6 pm until midnight, took a short break and resumed for ‘just a little bit more’ and worked until 3! In some areas I was sharpening that 4B pencil every few minutes!

P3010989 BABY PURPLE GALLINULES pencil in progress

So why the switch to pure pencil?

BirdWatchingDaily recently announced the Sibley Bird Watching Art Contest (the “Contest”), presented by The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. which requested ‘a although I think that any kind of art is permitted.

I’ve so many choices – and the local birds seem to be competing for my attention! These waterbirds seemed to be participating in meditation week.

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The official rules state:
ENTRY PERIOD: The Contest begins at 12:01 AM (Eastern Time) on May 15, 2020, and ends at 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) on June 15, 2020.
HOW TO ENTER: Post an original drawing of a wild bird to Instagram using the hashtag #SibleyBirdWatchingArtContest and follow @aaknopf, @sibleyguides, and @birdwatchingmagazine, as required in the applicable Contest announcement.
The drawing must be your original artwork and can use any medium, including digital. …

The rules state, “Post an original drawing” yet then state, “any medium,” but to me a drawing is very different from a painting.     For more information, start here:  Sibley BirdWatching Contest

Today I returned for a few specific photos of the water hyacinth details. The little balls of Gallinule fluff have a notable change, and this precious pair seemed to be modeling their  new look.

P3020357 baby purple gallinules in pajamas

A week older and a change of attire.  (Pajamas?)

The computer’s being stubborn today, and the battery is now quite weak. The pages are not loading, so hopefully the images and videos are the right ones.

P3020348 baby gallinule pajamas june 9

Will be back in a few days with the finished drawing/drawings.     So many birds, so little time.  (Deadline in less than a week!)

To hear a different Southern author’s accent, one will surely smile when hearing “Miss Welty” read “Why I Live at the PO.”

“It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to take white people admitting what we did was pretty damned bad.” – Greg Iles – 2017 National Writers Series interview

 

 

The Invisible Fence

P1750084 green vine yellow flower black fruit on fence wire at pond

‘The memory is a living thing – it too is in transit. But during the moment, all that is remembered joins and lives – the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.’ – Eudora Welty – One Writer’s Beginnings

(This was written a few weeks ago ‘between painting sessions.’  Short internet checks have kept my communication skills hobbled, but it seems timely today to ignore the emails, the news updates (I am anxious to check – but will wait to post this.) I often realized my good fortune to have had so much practice with self-imposed isolation. This present marathon of isolation has barely affected my moods – as long as there are paints and brushes and pencils and books to occupy my time, I am happy. (I do miss my connection with nature.)

Even when recovering from the dengue-chikungunya co-infection in 2015, I realized that earlier ‘lessons’ had prepped me for enduring unexpected challenges. My first introduction to dengue happened in Costa Rica, about the time of the story that follows;  I realize now – that the USA is also suffering from a co-infection…  Having one virus is enough – add another serious challenge,  and the host faces a serious fight back to wellness.   The Covid 19 Pandemic presented enough challenges of its own, yet the ‘newest’ one has been simmering and smoldering.  I am not surprised that it ignited into a second heart-wrenching crisis. The scenes from yesterday’s cyber check made me cry, and with a sense of dread I will watch from afar as the racial tensions play out one day (and night) at a time.

This is titled, “The Invisible Fence” but has been incubating in my heart under the working title, ‘Whatever Happened to Dianne Wright?’   It’s another long epistle, so you’re warned.  Continue reading

You are Treasured

P1250658 SOCCER CHILDREN BAEZA

Baeza Ecuador – Boys being boys!

…Long ago in Yazoo City, Mississippi:  —  “I love you all SO MUCH,” I once declared to a class of private art students, a group of rambunctious 8-year old boys.

Incredulous, they peered ‘up’ from their work and stared at me as if I were speaking to a totally-different group.

I added, “I could go to the grocery store right now and return and find you all still hard at work. Thank you.”

I continue to marvel at the effect art has on one’s psyche. Outside of that art class, the same students were the most unruly ones in the entire elementary school! Perpetually happy, they were also perpetually mischievous and often disrupted the classes. Once one of the mothers peered into the classroom and whispered, “I think you put a voodoo hex on them,” then quietly backed out of the room.

So now I state the same to all of you, “I love you all SO MUCH!” Seeing your comments gave my heart a grand smile, and thank you for your updates and feedback regarding the last post, “Hello from Ecuador.”“Hello from Ecuador.”

On Earth Day, the iguanas at the park received an extra-special fruit salad with papayas, pineapple, beets, carrots and bananas. When I handed the bucket over the fence to the guard, he motioned for me to enter the park and feed the iguanas. I was like a child being told she could help the Easter Bunny distribute the eggs! Instead of dumping the mix into the normal feeding area, I walked to each iguana and tossed them individual servings, then placed more in various spots on the big Mango tree. Smiling as if on mood-enhancing drugs, I kept thanking the guard who watched from afar. Another person contributed lettuce scraps earlier in the day, so I was pleased that this was at least their second feeding for the day.

P2980343 big iguana coming down tree wait fruit stop

“Wait! Is this a trick? Papaya in a Mango tree?!”

I owe each of you an equally-sensitive reply.

The guards at the larger Las Vegas Park gave me permission to observe the birds for Global Big Day. The Soras, now absent from the last two Sora Checks, must be taking their return trip back to the Northern Hemisphere! I ponder when air travel will return to normal, yet I suspect that we will all be adapting when society moves out of the “Pause” mode.

P2980573 PURPLE GALLINULE eye detail

Purple Gallinule

P2980830 global big day p gallinule running on water

Gallinule practicing the triple jump!

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Juvenile P. Gallinule learning to walk/run on water!

Some people are better suited for long periods of isolation. I ponder my own history and am grateful to so easily slip into sessions of deep concentration. On weekends here in Portoviejo, the lack of traffic provides a blissful 2-day dose of almost silence. Recently while playing a natural soundtrack recorded at Poza Honda last year, I was all but lost in my botanical studies and stopped for a break. When I looked up I almost laughed out loud to discover that I was in the city – and not at Poza Honda! Ah, and I am so lucky to be so easily fooled – even if by my own creative ways of dodging reality!

P2740199 BROWN WOOD RAILS preening each other Poza Honda Ecuador

From the Poze Honda Casa/2019 – Two Brown Wood Rails allowing a rare private viewing of behavior.

Weekdays present new challenges, and the queue of people for the bank (next door) goes all the way to the corner, wraps around the corner and goes down the next street. When I open the ground-floor door, there are always ‘people,’ who watch me wipe the door, lock the door and then say, ‘Buenos dias,’ as we exchange eye contact. I wonder if they can tell if I’m smiling? I am smiling – yet cautious.  Some days there are two lines – going in both directions, which happened this past week/first of the month! One line went to the corner, around down the second street to the next corner – and who knows where it ended! Whew – no, it’s best to stay home on week days or wait until after the bank closes at noon!

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Some days a vehicle fogs the area just before dark.

The 2 pm curfew remains in place, so my internet outings continue to be hurried. When online, I open emails, check world headlines, load pages and news videos, research eclectic subjects and then hope that the two browsers hold everything until each is crossed off at home!  Perusing that small dose of news options, I wonder about those who tune in all day every day – surely that makes one’s blood pressure soar?   Except for the Covid 19 and political news, there is little about other events – like the locust plagues or extreme flooding – or wildfires and/or drought.  I was surprised to see that half of the USA would be enduring a cold snap, while the other half was polar opposite.  Here is one video from ClimateCrocks (When May looks like December) that I watched when back at the apartment:

Of course I load  and too many pages to read at home!  Some days the browsers crash just before time to dash home – oh well, sometimes just scanning headlines is enough – and sometimes I think it’s better to work on my art, photos, writings; listen to Poza Honda soundtracks and ignore what’s happening in the world.