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Archive for the ‘Slice of Life’ Category

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Grab your bike and go on tour with me through the town of New Iberia, the city of live oaks.  Jim has been leading this tour for years, but I joined for the first time last weekend.  I was amazed at what little I knew about live oaks and their history in our town.

The above picture was one of our first stops at the fire station.  Jim pointed out the resilience of oaks. They fight to survive even while people try to control them with trimming as well as the abuse of concrete and traffic.

The New Iberia oak

In the early 1930’s a local historian Glen Conrad sought to register live oaks in New Iberia that were 100 years or older.  This massive oak lies on a corner of Main Street near McDonalds.  The property is abandoned so this oak has been allowed to sprawl and spread its wings.  We were moved to clean up trash while we stopped to admire this majestic tree.

Armond’s oak, Main Street, New Iberia

Jim stopped at this home on Main Street to talk about Armond’s oak.  Armond Schwing doesn’t live here anymore, but in 1992 he called Jim after Hurricane Andrew damaged this oak.  Jim asked Armond to be patient, the tree would recover in time.  And now, almost 25 years later, the tree has grown a new branch to balance itself.  To me, this is the magic of nature.  The magic of our trees.

Steamboat House, Main Street, New Iberia, LA

Just a few months ago a large draping branch from this majestic oak fell.  The owner has already refilled the blank spot with a pagoda and new driveway.  Jim was called to consult on this incident, too.  His advice to the owner was to build the driveway at a slight incline near the tree to allow the root system air and space. One of the things most people do not understand about these trees is that the root system is as large below the ground as the tree is above.  This is imperative to the survival of a tree.  This one was already endangered by losing a large root for the construction of the house next door.  Jim wanted to ensure the surviving roots were given the attention they deserve.

Feel the energy. City Park, New Iberia, LA.

This live oak lives in City Park.  I walk in this park often and I’ve never paid attention to this tree.  Jim explained that he calls it the Energy Oak because it has been struck by lightning numerous times.  He told us to relax against the tree and feel the energy.  After all that biking, I needed a touch of live oak energy.

We are blessed to have an oak of 250+ years in our own backyard, but this one just down the Loreauville Road is bigger by circumference.  This tree is tucked in a grove of live oaks.  The space feels like a forest.  The bayou just beyond completes the magical setting.  Unfortunately, Jim explained that this tree is at the end of its life.  Years ago an owner tried to keep the tree from splitting, so he roped it together.  This was a fix that worked at the time, but it is now constricting and damaging the tree.  I felt privileged to be in the presence of this ancient oak.

This tour of live oaks created in me a cause.  I want to speak for the trees.  I want to give them my love and attention.  Hand in hand with my 2017 One Little Word: Cherish.

 

 

 

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I have never been an activist. For the most part, I am an introvert. Introverts do not usually travel outside of their comfort zone. And, for me, activism, speaking out for or against a cause, has not been within my comfort zone.

Last week a friend invited me to come to her house to write letters to our senators and representatives about the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Rose Anne is a soft-spoken, humble woman. Activism was all new to her as it was to me, but we had a common concern for our precious wetland environment.

In the sunroom of her bayou side home, a few friends gathered. Opal brought banana bread. I learned about the texting number Resist Bot. I was amazed at how quickly and efficiently I could send a letter to my U.S. senators and representatives. I also wrote an email to my state representatives.

Our main topic of concern was the absence of an Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Study. Already our Louisiana bayous and waterways have been subject to culling and drilling and endless human invasion. Little consideration has been given to the environment.

The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is a proposed extension of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This section would connect Lake Charles, LA to refineries in St. James Parish through the Atchafalaya Basin. This swamp land is already riddled with abandoned wells. Not only is this area home to many species of birds and wildlife, it also lies above an aquifer that provides water to many people.

Who knows what my little act of opposition will affect, but I felt empowered by the experience. This is a cause that is close to my heart. The proposed action endangers the beauty as well as the safety of my home.

Rose Anne sent us a message on Facebook that Representative Richmond has sent a letter to ask for an Environmental Impact Study. That’s a step in the right direction. I received an emailed reply from the legislative assistant to my state representative that he agrees with me. Another step. Step by step, letter by letter, I can voice my opinion and know that someone is listening.

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Kim Douillard is a fine photographer. I follow her blog, Thinking Through my Lens. Each week she posts a photo challenge. This week’s challenge is perfect for me, Nature’s Art. Kim lives on the West Coast in California. She takes pictures of the beach. By contrast, I live in South Louisiana. While our state is located on the Gulf Coast, there are no beaches, just marshland and canals.

Last week I posted pictures from a swamp tour on Lake Martin in St. Martin parish. I think my husband was a little jealous of our trip, so when Saturday was an absolute perfect day with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s, he packed up the canoe, and we headed back to Lake Martin. This time I took my nice camera with the telephoto lens.

Wood duck couple

One of my students has quite an advanced vocabulary for a 2nd grader. She was explaining to me about how she was getting a rabbit for a pet.

“Mrs. Simon,” Lynzee explained, “I am going to be busy in the mornings because rabbits are crepuscular.”

“What does crepuscular mean?” I asked her after praising her for her high level vocabulary.

She explained that she had learned the word from Wikipedia when she and her mom were researching about her new bunny. It means active at dawn and twilight.

I told this story to my husband, so when the alligators kept popping their menacing heads out of the water, he began calling them crepuscular muscular submarines. I admit it’s more frightening to see them in a canoe than in a big metal flatboat. My nerves were quite jumpy throughout our adventure.

Alligator hiding in duckweed.

Aside from the muscular gators, there were plenty of crepuscular birds. Wetlands birds are majestic in their size and graceful flight.

Great white egret, Lake Martin

Sunset at the lake created interesting color changes. I’m not much of a pro at taking photographs, but sometimes I just got lucky. The light, the art of nature, and my camera clicked at the just right time.

Grey heron, largest of the heron family

From vocabulary.com “The adjective crepuscular describes anything that’s related to twilight, like the crepuscular glow of the dimming light on a lake as darkness falls.”

 

crepuscular glow of the sunset

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Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

 

 

My students were quietly working on their Slice of Life posts on Tuesday.  Erin announced she didn’t know what to write about.  I ignored her.  Tucked behind a laptop computer on a counter in the classroom was The Writer’s Toolbox.  I don’t remember buying this.  I think it was at Barnes and Noble one summer when I was teaching a writing camp.  Since then I’ve used it occasionally but not very often.

Frankly, I don’t really like The Writer’s Toolbox.  It is a box of gimmicks.  There are sticks for a first sentence, a non sequitur sentence, and a last scene.   There are spinners for characters.  The toolbox was designed for adults.  There were sticks I had to remove for their adult content.  When I used the kit to inspire writing, I found that the writing that resulted was not very good.  So there the box sat on the counter until Erin found it.

Erin asked, “How do you play this game?”

I responded, “I don’t remember.  Why don’t you read the directions?”

Soon Erin was writing crazy stories.  Lani joined her.  It seemed like so much fun.  Then Emily and Kaiden, and before I knew it, there sat an enthusiastic group of writers.  They used the 3 minute timer and wrote in 3 minute segments.  They shared their writing, and soon each other’s characters were showing up in other stories.  This game went on for 2 days.

Emily and Erin both wrote about this activity on their Slice of Life posts for the week.  They asked each other to proof their posts to make sure they were accurate.

So I discovered this amazing game called The Writer’s Toolbox. It lets you make up your own stories. It can be serious or funny. But it’s really hard to not make it funny because the prompts are so weird. One of them is “I was dressed in a completely inappropriate shade of pink.” That was one of mine.

All this got started with Juan when she just wanted some McNuggets and a case of Kool-Aid. But she and Helen became best friends cause they both loved to dance. Then Jimmy told them that they should become exotic dancers. Then Bob came along singing lalala with his dad behind him. Then Hillary popped out of nowhere with a toilet paper covered Sheila and Principal Barbara.  Also Melissa and Larry who were eating cat sandwiches. Can’t forget about Fred who just came back from Russia. Finally Mr.Margaret who drove them all insane.

Erin, 5th grade

I could not have planned this activity.  It would not have worked if I had.  The student-driven wild writing that took place delighted this writing teacher’s heart, but I didn’t say that to my students.  I don’t want to ruin whatever ferocity that drove this activity by putting the teacher approval stamp on it.

Erin’s feral writing, pages and pages of writing.

 

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Cherish is my 2017 one little word. So when my youngest daughter came home and wanted to go on a swamp tour, I took the morning off to cherish this special time. Whether it was the high air pressure or the slant of the sun in May, but the cypress swamp on Lake Martin was glowing. I wished I had brought my big camera, but my phone had to do. Even so, I captured some amazing images.

Lake Martin is a nature preserve and bird sanctuary, so there is no feeding of the animals of any sort. The guides do not attract the alligators to the boat. Even so, there were plenty of gators around to see. All sizes, from a small baby about 2 feet long to an old grandpa at 14 feet. Many of them were perched on branches sticking out of the water sunning themselves. Gators have no sweat glands, so they open their mouths to cool off. This makes them look fierce. They pretty much ignored us, though.

I learned that there are few snakes in the swamp because the birds and the gators eat them. The lake is home to all kinds of birds from the largest species of heron, the grey heron, to the littlest chickadee. We were mesmerized by the roseate spoonbills flying above, a spray of pink on the sky.

I enjoyed being a tourist in my own home. We should do this more often. I loved learning new facts, some of which I want to “fact check”, such as Spanish moss was brought into Louisiana on a bird. How do they know that?

If you plan to come to South Louisiana, you should plan on a swamp tour. However, it’s pretty warm, so you’d probably not want to take the trip during the summer.

I made an Animoto video and digital poem about the cypress swamp. Enjoy!

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Almost every morning, I walk the neighborhood with my dog, Charlie. We set out around 6 AM. I have come to love this time of day watching as the bayou world wakes up.

Almost every morning, I see Kenny. He’s walking, too, but not in a straight line. He picks up a newspaper at the end of a driveway and carries it up to the front door. He carries the trash cans out to the curb. When he sees me and Charlie, he stops, reaches into his pocket and gives Charlie a dog biscuit. When Charlie sees him, he pulls on the leash and cries.

One morning Kenny told me that he used to stop at this lady’s house every morning. He said, “I didn’t know her, but I knew she was elderly, so I’d always pick up her paper for her. One morning there were strange cars in the driveway. A man comes out to meet me and he tells me she passed away, but that she always talked about the kind man who brought up her paper every morning.”  A little act of kindness goes a long way.

This morning as I was walking, I recalled that Linda Mitchell wrote a limerick for her poem of the day.

I thought, “I could never write a limerick.” However, this limerick started humming in my head after I met Mr. Kenny this morning.

Limerick for Mr. Kenny

There once was a man who walked Edgewater Street.
Never a stranger did he meet.
He was kind to his neighbors,
offered multiple favors.
And always gave Charlie a treat.

–Margaret Simon

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One thing I did on Spring Break was visit Barnes & Noble and buy a few books I’ve been hearing about.  Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal was one of those books.  It took us a while to find it, me and the store clerk who was sure he knew exactly where it was.  But the book was hiding under another book.  After all that work to find it, I wasn’t going to let it go.

Then I had to take care of my car, one of those mediocre bothersome chores, except when you take Amy along.  I kept looking up and looking around because I was sure that my delight and vulnerability were showing all at once.  Somehow I felt the spirit of Amy KR right there with me.

She was not afraid to challenge us to be the best we can be.  She wanted all of us to look for purple flower moments and rainbows.  In her writing, the legacy of her generous spirit lives on, but her light is off.  I couldn’t let go of that fact.

Throughout the book, you are asked to text a response. I’m sure Amy didn’t read every text, but the idea has lost some of its appeal without her here anymore.  I wish for more…Amy.

Her style was unique and full of life.  Even her smile on the back flap continues to shine.

Page 291 reminded me that I have a doorknob that I keep on a shelf.  I bought it at an antique store when Jeff and I were planning to build a house.  We never built a house, but I still have the doorknob on a shelf.  Now I know why.

 

 

 

Kirby Larson started a Facebook group to honor Amy with good works on her birthday, April 29th.  “On April 29, 2017, the members of this group will do #More — more kindness, love, more fill-in-the-blank and will share their intentions/actions here to beckon the lovely to spring forth in others.” This is a public group, so anyone can join.

I want to be someone who
opens a door,
nurtures imagination,
keeps an umbrella close by just in case,
one who does more
because there is always
more to do.

Blessings, Margaret Simon

 

 

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