The Suitcase Lady


April 24, 2018, 8:37 pm

Here is a wonderful piece of news. 1,500,000 penguins have been found. The best part is they were never lost. Unbelievably, no one knew of their existence. How can 1,500,000 anythings stay hidden in this privacy-less age?

The penguins are Adelies. The species was discovered by the French explorer Jules Dumont d’ Urville in 1840, who named them after his wife. Adelies are one of the southernmost birds in the world. They live in the ocean and nest on the Antarctic coastal beaches and adjacent islands.

Scientists thought they had located all the Adelies’ breeding grounds and were convinced that Adelie populations were in serious decline. But then satellite imagery detected masses of guano on a part of Danger Island thought to be penguin free.

A group of scientists decided to check it out despite the fact that they knew Danger Island lived up to its name. The sea expedition had many close calls with treacherous ice but were rewarded by finding a million and a half happy Adelies breeding on the island. A drone was employed to do the head count.

We now can take Adelie extinction off our worry lists. And a good way to celebrate this happy discovery would be to observe National Penguin Day which is tomorrow, April 25. I don’t exactly know how to do this, but perhaps wearing black and white and thinking cool thoughts would suffice…..or eating raw fish.

Here are some penguin facts to ingest:

  • All 18 penguin species live south of the equator. However, the Galapagos Penguins are so close to the equator they can swim across.
  • The largest penguin, the Emperor, can be 4 feet tall and weigh nearly 80 pounds. Think three Thanksgiving turkeys.
  • The smallest penguin is the Little Blue or Fairy Penguin of Australia and New Zealand. It is never more than 16 inches tall and 2 pounds.
  • The fastest penguin swimmer is the Gentoo which can reach speeds of 22 miles per hour.
  • Penguins can drink sea water. Salt is filtered from the blood by special glands and secreted through the nose.
  • Prehistoric penguins lived 35 million years ago and stood 5 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. That would be a penguin presence.

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April 17, 2018, 10:16 pm

Six deer came to dinner the other night. We had just started to eat our meal, when we saw them silently slipping out from the trees and congregating at our bird feeders. After the birds have been feasting all day, plenty of leftovers are on the ground to second harvest. And, coincidentally, our “bird table” covered with cracked corn is just the right height for a hoofed, browsing mammal.

We have deer visitors all year long, but this group was feisty, a word rarely used to describe deer behavior. Usually these lovely creatures are bundles of nerves on high alert for any loud sounds or motions. Instantly ready to bolt, they raise their 14 inch long white tails to signal danger. Prey animals do not lead laid back lives.

Since antlers haven’t yet sprouted, the sex of the herd members couldn’t be determined. What was obvious was some strange deer behavior. Various deer would rear up in front of one another. Some would even poke another deer’s back with their hooves.  We were puzzled as to what all this dancing and posturing was about.

When in doubt, consult the oracle. A google search supplied the answer. Deer herds, which come in male or female varieties, display these behaviors when members are jockeying for dominance. It’s a frequent springtime occurrence indulged in by both bucks and does.

Called by many names;  hierarchy, pecking order, station, caste, place, position, standing or rank, the creatures of the world tend to group themselves. We do, too, for better or worse.


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April 10, 2018, 8:18 pm

Things are getting a bit out of hand down at our local boat launch lately. The snow is still piled up and the temperatures remain below freezing, but the parking lot is often full.

The folks arriving aren’t towing boats. They are only interested in strip mining the stretch of beach that is adjacent to the pier.

Our house is on the lake two miles up the road. Because our home sits back atop a 70 foot bluff, we can’t see the beach from our windows. But the terrain around the boat launch is flat enabling our neighbors there to watch the activities on their stretch of lakeshore. They have filled us in on why our little town is suddenly a popular destination. Apparently, the internet has spread the word that big bucks can be made from harvesting beach glass and driftwood.

The glass rush seekers arrive with shovels, rakes, diggers and buckets. One claims to have made $100 in a week of zealous digging. Another was seen filling the trunk of their car with driftwood.

All this excavating and hauling will not harm the beach. The immense force of the waves changes the landscape of the beach every day. And, technically, beach glass is litter and driftwood is a renewable resource.

However, some aspects of this beach mining are hilarious, unbelievable or downright bizarre. One neighbor reports that the peak time for the diggers is at night. Since the nighttime temperatures and wind on the lakefront have been brutal lately, many diggers arrive in ice fishing gear. Hats with miners’ lights or high beam flashlights are used to “shine” the glass.

After midnight one recent night, a neighbor saw a person lying on the beach. He prudently watched for signs of motion before attempting a rescue. Then the guy stirred and our local resident noticed a woman, probably the guy’s wife, busily digging further down the beach. Apparently, he was just taking a few winks while has wife mined.

Another afternoon, a neighbor spotted a woman busily smashing bottles all over the concrete boat launch and shoving the pieces into the lake. Her car trunk was filled with glass jars and bottles. When asked what she was doing, her reply was, “I’m making more beach glass.”

This could only be an American story. It seems as if every nice thing is taken to ludicrous extremes. And then it’s not a nice thing any more.

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April 3, 2018, 8:02 pm

Last week, I was driving west across the 311 miles of Pennsylvania on I-80, our second longest cross continental road, which goes from the doorstep of New York City to San Francisco. A ways in, I spotted a large sign which said: Highest Point East of the Mississippi on I-80, Elevation 2,250 Feet.

This spurred my brain to wonder where the tallest of the tall peaks were located on my side of that mighty river. My first guess was Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  I asked my husband who was riding in the shotgun seat to get out his cell phone and do a little research. Road trips are great opportunities for educational experiences.

My guess was not in the top ten. The ten highest peaks are all in the southern Appalachians either in North Carolina or Tennessee. Mount Mitchell outside of Asheville, North Carolina, is the highest at 6,684 feet. But height-wise, my guess wasn’t too far off. Mount Washington is 6,288 feet. And it certainly gets top prize for horrendous weather conditions of deep snow and 100 mile per hour winds.

Pennsylvania might not have the tallest mountains but they do have other claims to fame. They have a cracked bell. And there is that city entirely devoted to the production of chocolate and another that is the home of Peeps. Plus, shortly after the “Highest Point” sign was an I-80 exit for Punxsutawney, home of Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog. Height is not everything.

P.S. In case you find yourself driving west of the Mississippi River on I-80, the highest point on that side of the river is Sherman Summit in Wyoming at 8,640 feet.

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March 27, 2018, 8:52 pm

I came across an elegant description of airports in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s book The Vine of Desire. The setting was LAX, but the words resonate universally.

There’s a certain magic in airports. Loci of arrivals and departures, they make the air crackle and surge. Worries circle overhead in airports like disoriented birds — possibilities also. In airports, the horizon is always golden–but eminently reachable. In a minute you might be pulled up into it, released of gravity. One can take on a new body here, shrug off old identities.

Airports, like their predecessors, the grand, old train stations, are gateways to new adventures. While most modern American airports lack the opulence of past depots, some do have monumental spaces. Denver’s main terminal mimics the front range of the Rocky Mountains behind it. The peak like roofs are an engineering marvel of stretched canvas.

Denver’s airport was a subject of national ridicule when it was being built. Critics scoffed that the location was remote, the roof wouldn’t last and the baggage system was a disaster. The naysayers were proven wrong on all points.

With family on both coasts, I fly frequently. Bad weather does happen, and some airport delays are inevitable. So I have mused on the best airport in which to be stranded. My vote goes to Minneapolis. It has a real bookstore and some affordable food. On the plus side for people who don’t like to sit and wait, it has miles of hiking trails, a.k.a. gates. One concourse is shaped exactly like a gigantic electric plug.

My least favorite airport in America is Reagan in Washington D.C. The smell of stale grease from fast food concessions plus crumbling walls and floors are not conducive to happy traveling.

Albuquerque’s International Sunport is my favorite American airport. It’s perched on a ridge looking over the Rio Grande valley. The main hall  is a beautifully crafted tribute to Pueblo architecture and is filled with Native American art. No other airport in America that I know of exudes such a sense of place……except Key West.

The Key West Airport will not be winning any awards for its architecture. But when your plane touches down, you are immediately greeted by a large sign which proclaims, “Welcome to the Conch Republic”. Right now, I could use another country, one in which I am already a citizen.


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