“Straight up from the warthog”

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‘Oh, how I miss those wacky birding trips.’

I know I’m really late with this week’s post. But just today New York lowered the age requirement for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, and I wanted to make sure I got a shot (haha, very funny) at it.

Among other reasons to get poked, like not getting sick or dying and being able to see my friends and family in 3D, we have a birding trip coming up.

Our last birding trip–last weekend, at Sagg Main Beach–was a wild goose chase. Literally. We went looking for the White-Fronted Goose and didn’t find it

See, last year’s all-bought-and-paid-for exotic birding adventure (to the Galapagos) was, of course–like everything else fun in 2020–cancelled. But the good news is it’s rescheduled for this summer. Except you can’t go if you’re not vaccinated. Being a physician, Dr. Dude got his shot a couple of weeks ago so he’s all set. But, unless I wanted him gallivanting off without me, I had to score mine too.

I was on that website for about an hour and a half. The slots kept disappearing while I was applying for them; I guess I wasn’t the only newly-qualified 65-and-up banging away on her computer.

Last March in Borneo. We were masked, not because of Covid, but in preparation for entering a bat cave. It was about as delightful as you can imagine

Anyway. I know that hiking through the rainforest in godawful heat and 100+ humidity while being swarmed by flies and/or mosquitoes, peed on by bats, and squirmed on by leeches isn’t for everyone — but I confess I absolutely heart those trips.

Sometimes you need more than masks to protect yourself from the local fauna

You hang out every day with a tight little band of people from all walks of life — biologists and doctors and teachers, career military and architects, and a guy who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (hey, Larry!) You’re with each other pretty much every waking minute. You sit together, eat together, take bathroom breaks together (well, not together-together, at least not all the time). Come to think of it, it’s a lot like jury duty. There’s even the part at the end where you exchange email addresses and promise to stay in touch — but do you?

Merry band of new best friends boards plane

(I was going to say where else can you forget about makeup and your hair and not worry about what you’re wearing, but that’s been pretty much my house these past several months.)

You get to ride in pop-top Range Rovers and luxury houseboats and seaplanes and dugout canoes. You hike where no one’s hiked before, hear no traffic or planes, and see no one who looks like you for days and days on end.

You even get to walk across flimsy bridges — some so much higher than this that I could not let go to take a photo

And there are the colorful characters. The female birder with the perfectly-good name Deborah who insisted on being called “Raven.” (I, of course, pretended I couldn’t remember and kept calling her “Sparrow.”) There was the lady who fell in a pit of ants. There were the two guys who kept fighting and had to be separated. When I remarked to this guide, “Gosh, it’s a lot like kindergarten,” he replied, “No. Worse.”

Hipster Birder at work

This guide himself was colorful. He had lots of tattoos, shoulder-length hair he often man-bunned, and practiced a martial art called “grappling.” We called him “Hipster Birder.”

Hipster Birder at play

Oh, and of course I can’t forget Warren, more-or-less affectionately known as “Where Ya Lookin’.” As in: “There’s the spoonbill!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Red Bishop at three o’clock!” “Where ya lookin’?” And my very favorite: “Check out the elephant!” “Where ya lookin’?” “Straight up from the warthog!”

Nope. Warren wasn’t in this boat. But these were a pretty colorful batch of characters too

And yes, there were the birds. Technicolor ones a guide called “Fancy Birds.” Big ugly ones that looked positively prehistoric. And my favorite, the really sneaky birds it took a lot of time to find — so that, when you finally did spot one, it gave you a real rush.

Anyway. It’s getting late and I want to get outside. Even if “Outside” is a ten-minute walk down my driveway. At least I won’t have to fend off leeches.

See you next week. Same place, earlier time.

Amagansett, New York. January 2021

Yes, we have no bananas

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‘I’m thinkin’ bananas just wanna be bread’

A couple of weeks ago I chauffeured The Child up to the Big Ferry at Orient Point so that she could catch the train back to Boston. (You may recall from my story “Her Personal Truck” that not only can The Child drive now, she drives an F350. But it’s not a stick, and both our cars — the “new” ’98 Toyota 4Runner, and the old ’91Honda wagon — require stick-shifting skills.)

The Child and her BF pose in front of their new home. Yes, that’s a honkin’ big truck — but it’s not a stick

Anyway. The drive up to the Big Ferry is a pretty one (you ride on two little Shelter Island ferries on the way) but it does eat up a good chunk of time — it’s an hour and a half each way. To stave off starvation, I tossed a banana on the back seat.

Well. What with feeling sort of Mom-sad about bidding my one and only Child good-bye, I never did feel peckish. So when I got home I reached around to retrieve the unneeded, uneaten banana. But, instead of it being at its beginning-of-the-trip peak of tasty ripeness, now — just three hours later — it was looking rather, well, brown and bedraggled.

The untimely demise of my banana got me thinking. Have I ever been able to transport a banana successfully for later consumption? I mean, I can get them home from the store okay. But I have never been able to put one in a packed lunch or in a bag of foodstuffs to transport back or forth to Amagansett — even if I nestle said banana(s) carefully on top of whatever food-transporting receptacle I’m using and don’t close the top. (A closed brown paper bag being a tried-and-true method of ripening bananas.)

My version of the Banana Art at Art Basel. An Art World sensation that feels particularly quaint in these Pandemic Times

But, no matter what precautions I take, my bananas always look the worse for wear. Which seems to be the way things go, banana-wise. Why, I just checked, and even the banana in the infamous Art Basel Banana Installation looked, well, like it would rather be in a batch of banana bread batter than duct-taped to a wall.

So what is it about bananas?

Don’t do it!! You’ll be wasting a perfectly-good perfect banana!

I know that there are certain other foods that I’m told “don’t travel well,” which is why you can eat wineberries to your heart’s content from the bushes around our house in Amagansett — that is, if The Child or The Dude’s Sister don’t beat you to them — but you cannot buy them in stores. Not even at farm stands. That’s because wineberries “don’t travel well.”

Those wineberries were able to travel from bush to Grampa Whitmore. But no further than that

But you can find bananas at stores. Sometimes even at farm stands. Though the story about the City Lady asking the farm stand hand if their bananas were “local” shows how humor travels well even if bananas don’t. Get the whole funny story here: “The Forty-Dollar Farm Stand.”

What’s not to like about a farm stand with a surfboard for a sign? Well, maybe, ahem, the prices. But they only carry what’s “local,” which means (ahem, City Lady) no bananas here!

So. How do the people who ship the bananas keep those bananas from going all spotty and black on the way to the IGA? Can’t be refrigerated trucks; banana-bread lovers who want to speed things up (like me when The Child was an Actual Child and wanted that B Bread now) know that putting bananas in the fridge makes them blacken in no time at all.

I do know that they ship them on the green side. But that can’t be the only thing they do

Speaking of banana bread, that’s what The Child clamored for when we unpacked the freshly-blackened bananas she’d carefully stowed — along with umpteen boxes of household goods — for the trip down from her now-empty apartment in Boston (those really icky ones on the right up above). I dug out my mom’s recipe, and we went to town. Here it is if you happen to have any squishy bananas hanging around. Which you probably do.

Bake at 350, unless you’re using a glass loaf pan. In which case go for 325

Notice the recipe just says “bananas.” We used three. But the recipe is pretty flexible. Unless you’re going to use bananas like the ones we found in Panama (see photo at the top of this post). Then you’d need, like, eight. Oh, you squish them up with a fork; I add them before the dry stuff. But that doesn’t really matter either.

Looks like my Favorite Younger Sister was going to use two, not three. Whichever. I bet her banana bread made her People smile

But enough with the Banana Mystery. My mind is more occupied with following The Child (virtually; through Instagram) on her RV wanderings. Hey! I should have snuck a perfect banana into the kitchen of her camper to see how it fared. Would have made a nice experiment — as long as she didn’t eat the subject.

Morning in the Badlands. Maybe there’s a banana sitting on the counter of the kitchen in that camper waaaaay off to the right

New York City. September 2020

Social distancing, the Borneo Way

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‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

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What could possibly be worse than a rainforest full of leeches?

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‘Well, how about a cave full of bats?’

If you are the least bit squeamish, you may wish to skip this week’s much-belated post. Belated, because I’ve been bird-hunting in Borneo.

Through a glass, but not darkly, I spot my target: perhaps a hairy drongo?

Borneo boasts lots of lovely avian species, but has less than adequate WiFi. Not that I’m complaining; it’s actually refreshing to be less-than-connected, especially when the news Back Home is of political plotting and pandemic panic.

Speaking of panic, here is the interior of the plane we took from Kota Kinabalu to Taipei, where I started writing this piece

I’m in an airport lounge (thank you, AmEx) writing away while awaiting our plane to JFK — which will be 14 1/2 hours in duration, two hours less than our flight to get here.

As I mentioned, the Bornean birds are beauteous. But one must deal with — gasp — leeches. And, although we took the Proper Precautions (see my piece “Leech Sock it to Me!” for ghastly detail), the little buggers weren’t daunted. Leech socks, as I squeamishly explained, are supposed to keep leeches from inch-worming their way up your pant legs.

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Yep, there is a place called Yap

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‘But can you find it on a map?’

Please forgive the Green Eggs and Ham cadence; I couldn’t help myself. Everyone’s been so crabby lately. We’ve got the Secretary of State yelling at NPR reporters while waving maps — “Go on, Missy! Find Ukraine! I double-dog dare ya!” (She does, then tells on him. What did he think she’d do — she’s a reporter.)

Then we’ve got Our President congratulating the Kansas City Chiefs — from the Great State of Kansas — on their Super Bowl win. This time Claire McCaskill got a little testy:

I’ll let that one slide since she was pretty hilarious, and also because she used to be a senator from, ahem, Missouri. Which is where the Chiefs are actually from. (I used to be from Missouri, too, having spent my formative post-grad new-to-advertising years there. But those are whole ‘nother stories. Which you can find under the “Adland Lore” tab in the sidebar if you are bored and it’s raining like it is here.)

Me, doing something Important as Creative Director of a fair-to-middlin’ size ad agency in Kansas City, Missouri

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Leech Sock it to me!

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‘If you thought the Amazon had some scary parts, just wait till you hear about Borneo’

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m dating myself when I use terms like “sock it to me” in my stories. But hey, I’m a Woman of a Certain Age with a Certain Television History, which includes not only Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (of “sock it to me” fame) but Hullabaloo and That Was The Week That Was.

But this isn’t a piece about TV. (Though in a sec or two you’ll probably wish it was). I referenced those shows to explain my title and to admit to the fact that I have, as they say, been around the block a time or two.

One of the last times I went around the block — to Starbucks — they got my name amusingly wrong

I’ve also been to Guyana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, to the Amazon (twice) and to Panama (five times, but who’s counting — besides me?)

But never — ever — while reading the materials one is sent in preparation for said trips have I stumbled upon a passage like this one:

“Beware of loose netting in sleeves, backs, pockets, or pant legs that could allow leeches to crawl in. You may want to bring a pair of leech socks or buy some in Borneo.”

Leech socks”?!? “My stars and garters!” she exclaimed, continuing her Geezer-phrase sock-theme, “what’s this about leeches?!?” (BTW, the socks in the photo at the top of this post are most definitely not leech socks. They are parakeet socks.)

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Birders gotta bird

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‘Even if it’s from a rooftop, waiting out a plane delay’

Today I almost wrote about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a major renovation on a somewhat minor apartment. But just thinking about it was making me exhausted, not to mention bored.

What I wake up at 3 in the morning and think about

So instead I’ll write another story about our last birding adventure — the one where most of the spine-tingling moments happened wondering when and if we’d ever A) get to the birding location, and then B) get home once the trip was over. (See “Paradise Lost” for excruciating detail.)

What I wake up at 4 in the morning and think about

See, we’ve been on a bunch of these birding trips, but this was the first time we had any problem with the to-ing and the fro-ing. Still, the inbetween-ing was pretty sweet.

What I wake up at 5 in the morning and actually do — at least on these trips

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Paradise Lost

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’It’s true: you can’t go home again’

The Amazon Basin is truly a magical place. Though I wish its magic extended to beaming us home with a wave of a palm-frond wand. The name of the tour we are on (or just ended, depending on how you want to look at it) is “Paradise Revisited”. Our guide told us it had something to do with how they used to visit this part of the Amazon in the Good Old Days, then stopped when air service got spotty. Or maybe it was because once you see the Amazon, you just have to go back. Or something else travel-romantic like that.

The Rio Marie. Sigh. Tempting to go back, for sure

But I’m betting on the spotty air service theory, since that’s what we encountered at the beginning of our Adventure. We went to the airport three times (two of which were failures) in order to fly from Manaus to this remote spot on the Rio Negro called Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira. We were there so much that we teased our guide by suggesting the tour be renamed “Airport Revisited”. Turned out that the airline (MAP) that was to fly us there got bought by some bigger outfit and all its planes in this neck of Brazil (not just ours) got rerouted to more profitable airspaces.

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The Gate Nazi at JFK

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’Forced Bag Check. Even worse, forced Caroling’

I didn’t take a picture of the Gate Nazi (I was way too intimidated to try), though in retrospect I probably should have. Instead I am showing you a picture of where we went so you can see that the bullying we experienced at the very start of our Amazonian Adventure was worth it.

The scene at the top of this post is of a river trip taken on the afternoon of the first day we arrived in Brazil — yes, less than 24 hours after stepping on a plane in New York, we were seated on a small boat on a small tributary of a medium tributary of a larger tributary of the mighty Amazon River. The miracles of air travel are definitely worth every agonizing moment along the way. Even the agonizing moment I’m about to tell you.

Another small-boat moment. Crossing the Amazon, where the White Water meets the Black. Called, natch, “The Meeting of the Waters”

We were nice and early at our gate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to start. We had planned to carry our duffels and backpacks on board, in fear of losing our gear. (Clothes don’t matter on these trips; it’s all about the gear. I found this out the hard way on our first trip, to Kenya. I came down to dinner in a cute little sundress, much to the amusement of our birding cohort.)

The Dude and our current birding cohort confer with our guide

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A Sterling character

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‘A Ray of Sunshine brightens the road home’

I really should be sorting scarves and/or dredging out drawers, but this morning I woke up (heck, make that “sat up”, since I wasn’t actually asleep) with a horrendous head cold and I need a bit of a break from the utter sturm und drang of this whole business of getting-ready-to-sell-an-apartment-in-New-York.

See, it’s no longer a simple deal of making your bed and putting away the cat toys. No, these days you must stage your apartment — make it easy for your potential buyer to imagine that he or she lives there instead of you. Everything personal must go: the collection of shells and beach glass arrayed on the mantel, the foreign stamps stuffed in a hand-thrown pot with a red heart on the front, the carefully-curated display of evening bags on the hat rack in the bedroom. Even the framed photos of The Child and her cousins taken at various stages of precocity, from being dressed as pumpkins to being garbed in grad gowns — it all must be erased.

I can’t show you any of those things — they have been erased — but I can show you this collection of Henrys

I cleverly “gifted” a batch of framed photos featuring The Child’s cousins to the Cousins in Question present at my Mom’s Big Birthday Do. Which got me some puzzled looks as well as nice thank-yous. (I doubt that Young People are as “into” framed photos as People My Age, which is no doubt why I was urged to make them go away.)

A trio of Henrys shares a laugh, maybe over how hilarious it is that their cousin has to downsize

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end — from our run in the Apartment of 26 Years to my Mom’s Big Birthday Do.

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