The Muted Pond

I have not visited the containment pond for a few months. The ground is uneven and I am still working on my balance after my fainting fall. It was a glorious day, windy and warm, so Teddy accompanied me. To my utter delight, we have a new resident – a white swan! As I approached the ducks’ hangout area, she came walking out with the defensive neck position – see below. The little whistling ducks and the Muscovy ducks were unfazed because they are used to regular visitors.

The whistling ducks below are summer visitors. They fly back down to Latin America when winter comes. This group are juvenile and they look like they have buzzcuts. To segue, when I returned to school in the ’70s after the summer holidays, there were always a few boys with a military buzzcut. It took me years to realize that they had all been in juvenile detention for gang activity… Ah, the joys of living on the other side of the tracks!

Aren’t the whistling ducklings below adorable? They were so tiny and looked like the British candy ‘Humbugs’ – a traditional striped rock candy. Every year the mother ducks have up to 10 ducklings but usually end up with about 4 adults. I guess they make a nice snack for the various predators that visit the pond…

I was gently envious of two lovely posts by BabsjeHeron who photographed a heron and later two hawks washing. There is usually a heron or two at this pond but I have yet to see them washing. Then I spotted this pair of Muscovy ducks and one was washing – I love the droplets of water around her.

Below is a very pretty little Muscovy girl duck. The males have more of the red caul on their heads. She was quite happy to pose while I chatted to her.

There were many ladies around including the female Pond Hawk dragonfly below. She wears an emerald outfit but her beau wears blue and green. They hover above humans at the pond because we attract mosquitoes and other bugs.

This snappily dressed young man, below, is an American Robin. The male and female have similar coloring but the male have a more vivid breast color. His white spectacles match his boots.

Most of the wildflowers are past but there were a few Black eye Susie’s left. Their black eye is really dark brown.

Eventually the swan relaxed and posed while I photographed her. I love her reflection in this image below and the ripples on the water. She is not entirely mute but much like the Muscovy ducks, she was talking to us silently – just opening and closing her beak with no noise. Swans can grunt, hiss and trumpet but the Muscovy Ducks just make a breathy noise. The Whistling Ducks are the opposite. You can hear their high pitched squeaks from a distance.

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Tico Street Scenes

Costa Ricans are known as Ticos and these are some more street scenes in San Jose, the capital. I loved this stained glass and extended window in the Alhambra Building.

Teddy is a Taurus so I had to get a shot of him with the brightly colored steer.

Art should be enjoyed by all of us and not closeted in a rich person’s safe. Immortalizing a street sweeper in bronze exemplifies that notion.

I felt an overwhelming urge to hold this bronze lady’s hand – how many others have done just the same? For a moment I was transported back in time, holding my Nana’s hand. She was pleasantly plump like this lady and always smelled of baking or lavender soap.

I loved this clock in a fountain which is surrounded by the ever present pigeons in San Jose. When we walked around the cemetery, the groundskeepers where sharing their lunch with the birds. Does anyone else inspect the manhole covers in foreign parts? We call them ‘stanks’ in Glasgow.

‘The Wind’ is full of remarkable movement for a statuesque bronze.

The colonnaded building is a municipal building. It’s striking compared to the mishmash of modern architecture around it. The temperature in San Jose was perfect – 24 C in January with bright sunshine. San Jose is elevated so it can be chilly in the winter.

The lovely arches with intricate metalwork caught my eye on this eau-de-nil building. It is the Center for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage.

There is nothing nicer than some street music on a pretty day.

A colorful street mural on a busy road. The pedestrians and cyclist melt into the background.

I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to know that there is a stable democracy, a short distance from the state of Texas. There is public health care, too.

This statue of a cantering horse was in the lobby of our hotel.

Mercado Central

This is a city scene from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, right in front of the entrance to the Central Market. The crowd are a real mix of locals and tourists, as were the visitors inside the Market. San Jose feels like any other modern city in Latin America but as you enter the Mercado Central you are taken back in time.

Inside I was transported back to the souks of Cairo. There was a smell of spices and produce yet it was very clean. Grocers, clothes shops, spice stalls, florists fish sellers and butchers. What a sensory treat! Tourist shops sold handicrafts but most of the stalls were for locals getting their daily shopping. As a child, I went shopping with Nana to similar stores where the local produce was in crates with handwritten price tickets. I loved visiting the farmer’s stall just outside Rutherglen but was less keen on the chickens with all their feathers on. Nana plucked the feathers in the bath and re-stuffed our old pillows. That’s sustainability, old style.

Is there anything more joyful than a brightly painted mural? This one had a volcano, waterfall, parrots and toucans – perfectly illustrating the essence of Costa Rica.

This store is 10 years older than me…wow! The sign says that it has been selling bulk products since 1950. Notice that the customer and the assistant are both wearing masks.

A tourist shop to lure us in. We briefly looked around a couple of them but they were tight (for people with big cameras and rucksacks). In any case, I have already Swedish Death Cleaned the house and there is no room for any more trinkets. We brought back delicious creamy fudge stuffed with glace fruits.

This is my favorite scene in the market. A beautiful statue of Jesus right next to the butcher’s shop. I thoroughly approve of faith being part of one’s daily life. As much as I love beautifully decorated churches, they keep faith in a separate place. Costa Ricans have many public works of art which I will display in a future post (and a cathedral because I can’t resist).

The visit to the market made me giddy with happiness. It brought back memories, gave me new ones to reflect on and gave a genuine feel for San Jose’s inhabitants.

Boop!

Two Toed Sloth

We booked a tour directly with the Toucan Rescue Ranch, just north of the capital San Jose (we took a taxi).  This is not a zoo and its focus is the rescue and rehabilitation of many indigenous animals but particularly toucans, sloths and owls.  The animals in the enclosures, that visitors meet, are all no longer able to be released safely.  There is a large rehabilitation section closed to the public.  They work closely with the Ministry of Environment and Energy in Costa Rica.  The Ranch is a non-profit and you can visit in person or virtually.  One of the keepers was video-chatting with someone from overseas with each animal enclosure.  Our guides were very informative, one talking in Spanish and the other in English.

Three toed sloth

Look at this cute little three toed sloth – some have three toes.  Our guide told us that sloths aren’t quite as slow as perceived and their grip strength is as strong as humans (not mine, obviously).

Hershey the Tayra

This is a Tayra, an omnivorous animal belonging to the weasel family.  It was quite big and similar in size to a stoat or a cat.  They are native to central and Latin America.

Bat Falcon

Holy Raptors – a Bat Falcon!!! What a superhero – I had no idea that such a predator existed.  To my great excitement, it was spotted for the first time in Hidalgo, Texas in 2022.  Guess where my next road trip might be…  I love bats, too, and they are so very useful in our mosquito infested swamp.

There are so many types of toucans in the neotropics and many are endangered, from the pet trade and deforestation.

Tabu the Oncilla

This little wild cat would melt your heart.  It is a very rare Oncilla, about the size of a house cat.  A local farmer found what he thought was a kitten until it became obvious that it was a wild animal.  She now has a forever home in the sanctuary.  When they tested her DNA they found that it was significantly different from other Oncilla DNA.  She may be an undiscovered animal and unique to Costa Rica.  When the Ranch took over her care, they were worried when she hadn’t defecated for two days.  Someone had a lightbulb moment and put a kitty litter box in (she was being kept as a pet).  Problem solved!  She still has kitty litter in her private enclosure.

Felicia the ocelot

Felicia is a very old lady – a sixteen year old ocelot.  Like all cats she was basking in the sunshine to warm those old bones.

Spider Monkey above and below

It’s always sad to see animals behind a fence but they were obviously content in their forever homes. It was an intimate experience seeing animals that are truly exotic and many endangered. The tour fee helps not just these animals but those that are able to be released into the wild again. Costa Rican residents pay much less and have a learning opportunity about saving their indigenous animals. The grounds were lovely with flowers and wildlife. Teddy managed to get this shot of a hummingbird.

Broad Billed Hummingbird

Please do not copy, download or reproduce any of the photographs. Most were taken by my husband. Enjoy!

Poás Volcano National Park

This was my first trip to an active volcano – I was SO excited. The Poás Volcano, 31 steep miles from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It was active when we visited and was venting gas out of one the fissures.

The blue light was flashing on and off while we were there. If I read the instructions, it probably told us to go into the shelter if it was amber or red. It was a steep climb to the top of the volcano and I could feel my lungs straining. I am quite fit but my lungs are under par. Newly fit Teddy, who looks after wolves, could have strode ahead of me. I stayed behind to accompany a lady, in our group, who was much more disabled than me. She was able to get a park ambulance to ride back down to the parking area.

We were really lucky with the weather as the volcano is in the cloud cover but it was gloriously clear and sunny. It wasn’t hot at almost 9000 feet above sea level – 55 F/12 C. The weather in San Jose hovered around 85 F which was very pleasant.

The vegetation was tropically lush with strange plants that looked like rhubarb. I loved seeing the opaque light turquoise toxic water in the crater along with the stark strata of the rocks.

Isn’t nature wonderful?

The triffid ‘rhubarb’ plant is called a poor man’s umbrella. I finally identified it as Gunner Insignis – it is an ancient plant and this species is native to Central America. Loved the wall made of volcanic rock. We did see a green hummingbird at the animal sanctuary. More blogs to follow.

This one’s for the boys…

… and all the lady train geeks like me! The bright red engine looks so festive. We often put my husband’s childhood train set around the bottom of the Christmas tree. Below is the historic sign for the beautiful art deco but defunct train station in Galveston, Texas. Much like parts of Britain, many train lines were discontinued when cars where in common use. Our township is surrounded by train lines but they only carry freight these days. It’s quite normal to wait for 20 minutes for a train to pass with endless freight carriages. I still love the sound of a train whistle on a quiet night.

As you can see, it was part of the Santa Fe railroad network. As a child, I watched so many American movies with trains, especially Westerns. Just the name Santa Fe Railroad gives me goosebumps, imagining the vistas as you crossed prairie and mountains. We live between Houston and Dallas, and Amtrak still runs passenger trains between the cities. The nearest working station is 40 miles away from us so I doubt we will ever use the current train system.

The museum had ‘populated’ the station with plaster model passengers and it helped to show how glamorous the train station was back in it’s hey day. There are some beautiful art deco buildings and hotels in Galveston – it’s amazing that they have survived so many hurricanes.

The mail sorting rail car was the most exciting part of the museum. It was so perfectly restored after Hurricane Ike damaged it. I loved the idea that the train didn’t have to stop while picking up the mail – and wondered if this technique ever failed!

The Route of the Zephyrs sounds like a dream. I have flown over all of these places and visited some of them. It’s certainly a fascinating view of the vast differences in American landscapes. From steamy, subtropical Houston to pretty Denver surrounded by snow-tipped mountains. Amarillo is my favorite place on the list with the best canyon in Texas.

As we approach Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day as it is known in the US, on Friday 11th November, may we remember all the servicemen and women who perished in war.

Holy Shrimp Boats!

Do you see the name of the boat? It is named after our current Roman Catholic Pope, Francis II – the first Pope to hail from the Americas. Argentina, to be precise. This is the harbor at a magical little fishing port, Palacios about halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas. The majority of the population is Hispanic, some white and minority of Vietnamese who migrated to Palacios for the shrimping. The names of the boats reflected their heritage.

If you zoom in on this boat coming into harbor, you will see that the owner is Vietnamese. He was waving at us very enthusiastically as we snapped images of him. It was the end of a very long shift for him and hopefully a good catch. Palacios is not a tourist trap so perhaps he was intrigued by the Paparazzi. Our respective grandparents were farmers and fishermen, so we are drawn to working harbors and the countryside.

Why does he always walk into my shots???

We stopped at the pretty main drag to get a lovely cup of coffee. I have a theory about why coffee tastes so much better in remote places. The water is better and the milk fresher, perhaps? Some of the cafes we stopped at have a Mission connection to a small coffee farm in Latin America. Coffee that’s good for your soul. In the school vacations I used to see groups of Texan youth going to Missions in remote places of central America – better than playing video games all summer.

The boat’s names were an intriguing mix of Texican, Spanish and Vietnamese. Palacios has been home to the indigenous Karanwaka natives, then the Spanish conquistadors, French and finally the other Europeans. It is satisfying to see that Vietnamese refugees found a new community in the most unlikely of places.

Then I spotted this random dude that I fancied… I am so proud of my Teddy for losing all his excess weight and getting healthy. He is easy on the eyes too. 💗

Knitted Pantaloons

I was all set, getting ready to leave the house to go to the Dentist. Then I saw a flicker of gray in the garden and crept to the window. It was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, resplendent in knitted pantaloons. If I was little, I would ask my Nana to knit me a stuffed Hawk just like this one.

The Juvenile was very skittish and as I went to get my camera out of the drawer, I noticed a squirrel staring intently at the hawk from the fence. Part of me wanted to warn the squirrel but I really wanted a photograph… We have plenty of squirrels and this one was curious, not scared! Baby Cooper posed so nicely for me, showing off her fabulous plumage. I need to get an outfit of taupe and steel gray now.

Eventually, I made a noise as I was trying to poke the camera through the Venetian blinds and the hawk flew off straight into the squirrel. My heart was in my mouth wondering what would happen next but the feisty squirrel fluffed up her fur like a cat and terrified Baby Cooper. They eat much smaller prey than squirrels. Our squirrel stood her ground, saying, “That is MY Nut Mom and MY garden.”

Please come visit us again, little hawk! I want to see those yellow feet…and those fluffy pantaloons.

EXCITING UPDATE

When I went out on the walking path yesterday, I met Baby Cooper! She sat in her tree while I have a one side conversation with her. There is an open invitation for her to visit my yard.

Autumn Ramblings…

I love the not very scarecrow and the upside down witches legs at the next store

I am in a strange mood for the start of my favorite season.  Fall has taken some of the heat out of the air and I woke up cold today.  Can you believe it was 73 F (23 C) in the house?? Every so often, I have notions about moving to somewhere quieter with better air quality but those places are always cold in the winter so, ‘No Bueno’.

Before the pandemic, I was delighted at myself for fixing the leaking U-Bend pipe under the sink, with step-by-step instructions from the local hardware store.  Then it leaked again, mid pandemic, and my husband fixed it.  This week it flooded again and the plumber had to be called.  Over the last two decades I have cultivated a cache of trusted contractors in Texas.  We came from a small village in Scotland where you could rely on word of mouth for good service.

I know the plumber’s wife very well and we chat away like old friends, both trapped in the house by work or anxiety. “Hello, Mary”, said I, “Could you send that nice young man that came before?”  As soon as the phrase was uttered, I burst out laughing, as did Mary, at how horribly ancient I sounded.  We shared memories about how embarrassing it was when our respective mothers talked to complete strangers.  You never think your mother’s words and accent are going to fly out of your mouth like Parseltongue.  Then you look in the bathroom mirror and she is staring at you…like Moaning Myrtle.

Mary told me that James would be delighted to be requested, especially from a VIP customer, such as myself.  James came early but phoned to see if that was okay (isn’t that perfect?) and arrived with his wee pal, Carlos.  Both were married and about 30 years old but seemed so young to me.  About a decade ago, I might have tried to emulate Mrs. Robinson for a good price (for the plumbing) but can only pull that off with old codgers now (the electrician, for example).

They went straight to the sink and James said, “This is my last day.”  NO!!!  Then I turned into Auntie Kerry as he told me that he had to take 2 months off work because his mother, in Washington State, just had a serious stroke and was awaiting a brain operation.  He was really agitated about it, understandably, but particularly because he might lose the best job he had ever had.  We chatted some more about making difficult decisions but I assured him that he was making a good decision.  Life is so short; he would probably regret not going and the plumbing company would keep the job open as long as they could.  If not, there is always a need for contractors.

As they were fixing the sink and then the cistern, I whispered to Teddy about the situation and asked him to find a nice geological rock for James as he collects them.  As they were leaving, and undercharging us, Teddy presented James with an ancient rock from Ireland and one from Scotland.  Carlos was just standing, being supportive to his colleague and I felt sorry for him.  So…I asked him if he would like a Popsicle?  Now I had gone from Auntie to Granny Kerry.  They both left, looking happier with popsicles and rocks.  How does this happen and when did I turn from sexy cougar to nice Nana?  Thank goodness I still have my gardener who calls me Babe!  Even Martha Stewart does thirst trap Instagrams.

On the squirrel front, ‘Half’ has been behaving badly.  He was chasing everyone off the deck so he could eat all the peanuts.  I opened the back door and shouted, “Half! I am going to smack your bottom, if you don’t stop that.”  Distant neighbors will be calling social services about the Scandinavian neighbor who assaults her children  The drought has returned and I am watering the garden again.  Yesterday I went into the back yard in my disgusting nightie (stains, no shape).  As I was hosing, a GIANT grasshopper landed on my head.  I had a tiny mental break, lost control of the hose which soaked me and my newly cleaned windows.  The grasshopper was terrified too.

I got washed and went to Trader Joe for groceries.  It’s a hip and groovy store and all the checkout staff are interesting…  My Dude was about 45 years old and looked like he had started a degree at a liberal arts college in California.  In my imagination, weed and surfing took over his life and now he works at a store.  He was so friendly, Bro, and we started talking.  I had bought some cans of wine (it’s a trailer home next) that were pre-mixed with sparkling water for Teddy’s restrictive diet.  The label said that the beverage was for those with an active lifestyle?  I started laughing and told him that I fully intended to sit motionless on my sofa and watch Netflix with said cans of wine.  He laughed and suggested I drink the harder stuff at the weekend.  In response, I told him that I only drink Jagermeister at the weekend (I was joking) but he looked at the old lady with new respect.  For the Brits, Jagermeister is the equivalent of Buckfast.  Gives you a hell of a hangover.

There was a big social event in the street – the second I have attended in a month!  I was so pleased with myself for going to both, behaving like a normal person and not drinking much.  But a toll has been taken – my mental health took a dip from all the social anxiety.  They were all people that I know and like but these last two years of introspection have made it difficult fight against my overwhelming desire to stay at home all the time.  I know it is important to keep challenging myself so although I didn’t feel like it, I kept a promise to visit one of our local antique towns today, with Teddy, and regretted it almost immediately.  Still, I followed through, and that’s important to improve my health.  Now we are meeting friends for lunch on Thursday.  Go, Kerry, Go!

Who doesn’t love a Corpse Bride at the Wedding Store?

Clouds and Water

I thought it was snowing on the way to Rockport, Texas. That was very unlikely given the 100 F temperature. To my intense excitement, it was little bits of cotton in the air. The fields were full of cotton crop or wrapped bales. The pink wrapper is in honor of a cotton farmer’s wife who died of breast cancer.

This is the sky at sunrise over the bay. The dark clouds just disappeared even though they briefly promised water in a drought…

An almost empty beach at Mustang Island State Park. Even though it was early in the morning, it was too hot, with warnings to stay inside because of the high UV.

Sunrise sparkling on the dock in Fulton. The sentinels are brown pelicans, getting in some early fishing before the dolphins arrived.

A fishing chair outside our hotel at Port Lavaca, looking onto Matagorda Bay. I lived dangerously and went beyond the sign – nothing happened. When I looked at the sign later, I noted the last sentence. Alligators, methinks! There was also an oyster bed to the left of the chair.

Happy memories of summer although it is still 98 F here – longing for a real Fall.