Anne and I worked together for a number of number of months on getting posts made to her blog. She asked me to keep the blog going for “as long as I felt like doing it,” some weeks before her death in April, 2012. She left me with a notebook full of articles. The metal rings of the notebook are weathered by what I guess was the salt air that wafted into her home. Some of the articles have hand written notes in pencil including a methodical check mark by those that have been published. Anne worked on this blog right up to the very end of her life. What follows are the articles she asked me to share with you. – Penny Alsop

Homer isn’t very big, in fact he’s really short but he’s a tough little cuss.  A Vietnamese potbellied pig, he doesn’t take guff from anybody.  People welcomed him to begin with,  despite his  less than wonderful personality.  In his loneliness, he made too much noise late at night and kept the neighbors awake.  He just needed a girlfriend, everyone said and he’d calm down but he couldn’t seem to find one.

After a while he wore out his welcome.  He harassed the horses at the stable where he lived until one kicked him, tossing its rider, a little girl, onto the ground.  It was go or else.
He didn’t want to leave and resisted with all his might.  It took the combined efforts of ten people to get him moved.  He kicked and squealed and dodged and darted and ran between legs and under fences and generally made fools of all of us until somebody grabbed him by a back leg in a nose in the dirt sort of tackle.  Convinced that he was done for, he lay there screaming and moaning as we bundled him up in a blanket and put him in the back of the car for the move to his new home.
After what must have been a terrifying near death sort of experience, the car stopped, the blanket came off and there he stood, trembling with shock and fear.  Gradually he realized that not only was he still alive, but this new place wasn’t so bad.  It had chickens and horses and peacocks and dogs and hay to rest in and all sorts of new and interesting smells.  Wrapping his tattered dignity around him, he slowly tottered off, glowering balefully at us as he left.
A month later, Homer was lord of the place.  Whenever the horses and riders left on one of their long rambles through the woods, Homer was there too, his short legs doggedly pushing along.  After all, a pig’s got to do what a pig’s got to do.
When my son and I appeared in the yard one day on horseback, our friends weren’t home but Homer knew what to do.  In a delirium of delight, he came running up squealing and snorkling to my horse who carefully lowered his head and exchanged greetings.  And when we left, Homer was right behind us, doing his job.
“Oh, great!” I said. “Go home Homer, go on back,” I shouted.
He wouldn’t be turned.  A pig’s got to do what a pig’s got to do.  We took off at a gallop and left Homer behind, headed down to the nearby lake.  Ten minutes later, my son looked back.
“Mamma, the pig is following us.”
Craning around I looked over my shoulder but I didn’t see anything.  The ground was brushy and the sun was in my eyes.
“Nah, I don’t see him, maybe it was a bush moving in the wind.”
“No, it was Homer.”
We sat there for a minute and here he came, huffing and snorting but determined.
“OK, I said, “we’ll just have to swing back by that house again and make sure he gets home OK.”
Back we rode, slowly, Homer strutting at our heels all the way back to the yard.  There was still nobody home.  He headed over to the feed shed to see what he could find and we took off fast, taking no chances.  My son’s horse reared but he held on and we were outa there.  Two miles later we were almost home when my son said, “Ah, Mamma, I think I see him.”
“Who,” I asked absent mindedly.
“The pig – Homer.”
“What? That’s impossible, we were going too fast.”
But there he was, the pig from hell, following his nose, doing what he had to do.  He did it all the way back to the pen.  By the time we unsaddled and turned the horses loose, it was dark but Homer was happy, staying close to my horse who by now was swinging his rear legs around threatening to kick Homer all the way back home.  Homer wasn’t impressed, he stayed just out of range of the hooves.  A pig’s got to do what a pig’s got to do.  I left a message on my friend’s answering machine who called back but couldn’t do anything until the next day.
By the next morning, the man who owned the pen where I kept the horses was calling to tell me the pig was on his porch.  An hour later it was headed off into the woods and  he’d had to chase it back into the pen.  Somebody had stopped to ask about the property rights of the situation, said something about a barbecue.  It obviously wouldn’t be long before Homer was roast pork, my horses were evicted and Homer’s owner would be looking for justice.
We went back with cold sweet potatoes, and I managed to pet him but when I lunged at his shoulder, it was like trying to grab a hurtling steel missile with no handles.  No wonder they used to have greased pig contests at fairs.  After that we couldn’t even get close.  So we saddled up and headed back across the woods, Homer at our heels.  When we got back to his owner’s house, she looked at him, shook her head and said, “Well, Homer, I thought I’d be glad to have you back, but now I’m not so sure.”

Homer ignored her.  A pig’s got to do what a pig’s got to do and Homer had done his duty.



Her Spirit Returns

By Jack Rudloe

Anne Rudloe, my wife of 42 years died of cancer on April 27th 2012, and there are hints and vapors that she has returned to us. I have never been a religious person, nor have I bent towards spirituality. I’ve always thought there was some sort of God out there somewhere, but that our concept of what He, She or It is was beyond my grasp.  Trying to understand what God is, is like a bacterium trying to conceive an elephant.  I’ve attended my share of funerals, and looked at the empty shell of the deceased lying in the coffin, and heard ministers preaching in all knowing voices and  thinking to myself that whatever happens to you when you die remains the best kept secret in the Universe.

My life has always been one of discovery and so was hers.  For the past seven years after Anne was diagnosed with cancer, we had many discussions about whether or not there is life after death. As a Zen Buddhist and a scientist, she took on the subject, reading everything written, studying near death experiences, the bible and other great religious works. Based on endless data she firmly believed that something lives on after life fades away.  To me when life ended you went zippo, and disappeared into a vast eternal nothingness, but I was never firm in that belief, nor would I ever call myself an atheist.  Life and death is one in the same, an endless circle of emerging and fading life. It makes no sense that the life force vanishes for fish, flies or humans and does to replace itself, because rebirth follows so quickly.

When my wife ceased breathing, with my two sons present, I felt and saw nothing, yet our dog immediately sat up, looking at empty part of the room wagging her tail, as if she were greeting someone. Yet no one was there, and after a few minutes she lay back down. Perhaps she felt or saw her presence, animals have special powers that we don’t, but she never exhibited such behavior before or since.

In the days that followed people have told me that they sensed her presence, so much so that I am beginning to believe that there really is a spirit world. I have not, perhaps because the pain is so great and we were so close. But in my book “evidence’ has appeared and I am going to share that evidence with you in the form of  an email  that came from  Natalie Bjorklung who lives in Canada and was one of our closest friends. She is an excellent scientist with a brilliant mind, who just happens to see ghosts.  Six hours after Anne slipped away I telephoned her and her and her husband Richard Gordon to share my shock and pain. Days later, she sent me the following email dated Friday, May 4, 2012 and gave me her permission to share it.

So here it is:

Subject: The visit.
Dear Jack,
After we spoke on the telephone last, I did experience something. It was largely outside of my usual such experiences and so I have been hesitating about sharing it and trying to mull it over to get it into words. Since the image won’t go away but remains powerful and real, I have decided I should share it. You have never laughed at me and my seeing ghosts and it is only a positive experience and therefore probably okay to share. I am also under the impression I will be required to continue to experience the images over and over again until I do tell you.
After I hung up the telephone, I started thinking about the last time I saw Anne and how I hugged her and how much I hoped it would not be the last time I could hug her. After speaking to you, the reality that she was gone hit me very hard and I started crying. I was too distraught to work and so I started digging in the fridge to make something for supper and wash the dishes. I clean and cook when I am upset. Understand I was in the depths of grief and weeping heavily.
Suddenly, I was washed over with over whelming joy, very difficult to describe, as near as what I can call pure joy. I stopped crying and I shared this intense joy. I laughed with it and I felt flooded all over my whole body with it. I did not see a ghost, rather, I felt a presence. The presence was “thin” is how I would describe it, so thin and so translucent it really did not have a form at all but rather was more akin to a shimmering prismatic rainbow, not unlike the way gasoline on water sitting over pavement looks but against a gleaming white background instead of black. Also moving constantly, flowing and not static. It was here and around and spreading in and out of the trailer. Think of a vapor or fog moving at very hide speed.
The presence shared images with me. Foremost I saw a flashing image of a stunningly beautiful beach. Tropical, with a fully glorious azure sky above and somewhat darker but clear rich blue below. The sands were not white but rather sort of pale beige to brown almost but not quite reddish, with lots of black specs. The ocean was teeming with life. The beach was on the edge of a lagoon with a reef in distance very far out, breakers on the reef, and coral. I sensed she had just been there at that beach and she was delighting in the fact that she could move anywhere in an eye blink if she wished from the tops of the coconut palms to lower reaches of the coral reef. She sang to me
“I am free, I am free, I am free,” in such absolute pure joy and unfortunately very hard to describe. Images not words.
I asked how she had found me and she imaged she had left the beach sensing you were going to call me and she had been right beside you, kind of back over your shoulder, when we talked on the telephone and she had simply followed the energy that had transmitted my voice back to the source. This quite remarkable feat had been as easy as thinking of it. It was not unlike teleporting in Second Life. She then whirled up and around the trailer and swept through the nearby trees, little trails of herself like tendrils of fog and one tip leaned over and kissed one of the little juncos in the tree on the top of the head and another reached up to feel sunlight before she swept back in singing again “I am free, I am free, I am free.” It was a demonstration of her state for me to experience.
I spoke out loud, “Okay you are free and that’s all very fine and I’m glad. But I can’t share with Jack just that. It makes no sense. This is not like any of my other experiences. What am I going to say so he knows this is real and not made up, like something I imagined to try to make him feel better?”
Her reaction was to abruptly gather her spread out thin wispy self without form and for a nearly full second take a form more like her in real life. She had on a red shirt of some type, relaxed with an open throat and bell sleeves with a bit of embroidery on the edges, very dark navy blue jeans and flat heeled sensible black shoes. She said clearly in words, “Tell him ‘My nose is fixed.’ ” Within the context of this whole lack of body form and ethereal freedom flights, it was such a ridiculous understatement that we both laughed at it.
Then she dissolved back to thin rainbow and left. I sensed her for a few moments circling the trailer park, kissing birds on the head again, one little junco felt her too and he burst into trilling song at her touch, and she was stroking the very tiny leaf buds before she was gone, racing off at fantastic speed, her tendrils darting between the blades of dead prairie grass, on her way south over the plain to go and see the Badlands. Her last thought to me was to tell you not to rush to join her.
And that is it. Not my usual experience, nor a standard ghostly visitation.
This is somewhat the style of the shirt but with only a little embroidery at the neck and sleeves and the shape somewhat closer to a feminine shape, far less baggy and not so shiny, a plain cotton.


On 2012-05-04, at 4:01 PM, Jack Rudloe wrote:

It’s now been one week.  At this time last week, Cypress, Sky, Miranda and Alyssa were headed out in the boat.  I told the undertaker to wait until we were out of sight before taking her away.  I figure Anne died around 2 PM.  She had a terrible time the night before with lots of pain from the catheter which did not abate when it was removed. Morphine, in the small doses given her did not good, and finally the Hospice nurse gave her something else so she could rest—another dose of stronger morphine with another name. She had a breathing problem, gasping briefly for breath until she went quickly and mercifully to sleep. Her color faded, her breath became shallower, my two sons and I held her hand as she slipped quietly away.  The Hospice nurse had gone home, and we called her back.  We didn’t know she was gone, until the nurse came back with the stethoscope, and shook her head, and we exploded into tears.

Hospice was wonderful, they arranged for the funeral home to come.  We didn’t want to see them take her away, so we took the boat to Mash’s Sands, went past her horseshoe crab beaches where she had done her studies on them, watched dolphins jumping and pelicans diving, and finally returned.  Anne was gone, and thank God my staff at Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, Victor, Tom and Debbie had all the Hospice stuff, bed, walker, potty chair, oxygen concentrators and bottles removed and packed in the beauty shop.  We went out to Angelo’s for dinner, and they refused to take any money when they learned what had just happened, and so on April 27th the first day had passed.

I was expecting, or hoping that she’d make an appearance to me, but she never did.  I was and am too broken up maybe.  But Ed Lyon, the Methodist minister who she worked with as a Hospice volunteer months ago, told me that Anne came to him a  dream, looking beautiful and serene and thirty years old, and kissed him on the forehead saying not to worry, that everything was okay, and she was fine.  Anne wasn’t much into kissy stuff, so I thought that might be wishful thinking, but after reading your account, I wonder.  The same day Cypress felt a wispy presence at one point, and saw a wild turkey and a chick walk before him, so I know she’s been around even though I can’t see her. I’m not sure I can say that I really feel her as others have, I’m either numb, and bawling, walking through the woods and screaming at God or whatever. Anyway now it’s Friday a week later, but if it were last week at this time we’d be returning to the dock.

This afternoon I went back out trawling with Cypress, Victor and Doug to catch sting rays, and I lay on the bow looking up at spectacular clouds on a beautiful clear day.  Somehow I felt her presence, but when we came back to the dock, suddenly the air was filled with eagles and ospreys.  The eagle was stealing a fish from the osprey, there were screeches and calls, and dive bombs right in front of us in the most dramatic and unusual manner.  Clearly it felt orchestrated.

Everything Anne did was on a check list. Get the book out, get it on Kindle, get the blog, do the email lists, amidst growing fatigue, and then when the work was finished and the fatigue turned to pain, die.  She did that and fairly quickly.  I’m working with the Unitarian minister for the memorial next Sunday, and she has it all outlined on the computer except the date. It says date:????????????????????????????????????

So your account sounds right on. She was looking forward to the great adventure, and now she’s found it.  So thank you for sharing your observations and feelings. It’s a great gift to see ghosts and feel them.  Meanwhile we are trying to cope.

Best, Jack.

I sent Natalie another email a few hours later that said,
Further,  that’s the kind of shirt that she was fond of. Anne liked costumes and bought medieval reenactment dresses and blouses whenever she could.  Now, I did tell you that three days, or maybe four or even five, before she died, she had been sitting on the couch for several days, unable to get up without assistance, then when the phone rang and she knew it was a Hospice nurse trying to get directions, she got up to go for the phone, fell flat on her face, damaged her nose and had a nasty nose bleed. I was in the tub at the time, and Cypress was with her and flipped out, yelling for me to get out of the tub.  We got her up, and she had a sore nose for several days, and early in the day that she died, she had a nose bleed again.  So did you know that?  Let’s be scientific about this, because if you didn’t , I’d have to say “oh wow!”

Oh wow, Jack then it makes sense. No, I absolutely did not know she had hurt her nose. I had no idea at all. Nor did I know about the shirts as I never saw in such a shirt. Okay, I accept I did not imagine it and she came and saw me on purpose. There is life beyond. She has given us a glimpse of it.

Natalie wrote me several days later asking if I had contemplated suicide because her last thought to me was to tell you not to rush to join her. The answer is no, but during her long illness over the past seven years she contantly urged me to keep on living, so I could help Cypress and Sky, and go with the mission of Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, which we started so long ago.
Then another close friend sent me the following email:

I had a dream about Anne last night.  Here it is:
You David and I rented a cottage at the beach.  Very blue water and very white sand.  We spent the days reading, walking, and paddling about in a small metal boat.  We talked about how much Anne would have liked it.

I awoke on a crystalline white beach on one side of those beach erosion fences.  Anne was on the other side of the fence.  I cried and crawled towards her.  She was wearing a brilliant turquoise flowing dress that I have seen her wear before.  She waved, smiled and said she was OK. We smiled at each other and she walked on.

It was pleasant, it was Anne.

I feel blessed,
Merry Ann

Giving Thanks for Cancer

Anne Rudloe died peacefully in her home yesterday, April 27, 2012.  I’ve been fortunate to work with her on her blog over the past few months.  She asked me to publish the piece that follows, the one she wrote subsequent to the cancer diagnosis she received years ago, upon her death. It’s been my great, good fortune to spend some time with Anne and her husband, Jack.  Though we’ve known each other from a distance for many years, it’s only in these past few months that I was able to spend some personal time with them. When I saw Anne last week, her eyes were bright and her presence unencumbered. She expressed gratitude for the ability to sit and look over the bay from her front window. If you watch the video of this post, read more of her publications or if you were lucky enough to spend some time with her, you’re likely to know straightaway that she moved through nature and the whole of her life, with the familiarity and the knowing of a wild one. Ever on the edge, Anne didn’t hold back anything. In her life and in her death, Anne faced what was before her with an openness that has been of benefit to many beings. Fare thee well, my friend.   – Penny Alsop

My eyes blinked open as consciousness returned after the colonoscopy. Before I could say anything, the doctor leaned over my shoulder and said in an urgent voice, “You have cancer!”

“Geez, what kind of a bedside manner is that?” I thought in a fuzzy blur. A few hours before, when I had arrived at the clinic for a routine screening, I had felt fine. It was just the last step in a series of routine checkups.

“But you’ll be O.k.,” he added. “It’s small, we think we caught it before it spread beyond the gut.”

But it had spread. And after surgery to remove the tumor and a series of lymph nodes, I spent weeks recovering under huge old trees next to the Gulf of Mexico in the company of fall wildflowers and butterflies. Morning sunlight glittered on the bay and gilded the pine needles overhead. I was swept not with fear but with gratitude for all the wonderful things of life and with the absolute conviction that, if death came, nothing would be lost.

Later, my husband and I made a trip to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. On the way, we canoed the Weeki  Wachee River, a gorgeous spring run with crystal clear water, underwater emerald meadows, schools of fish darting past us, manatees and eagles.  The healing that came from being there was palpable, even as it had been under the pines at home. There was joy to be a part of a system that creates such beauty even though death is part of it.

Halfway through the chemotherapy, I ended up in and out of the hospital over 25 days, really sick. I never felt as if I were in any serious danger, given that medical support was available but a lot of friends who saw me were convinced that I  was on the brink of death and the doctors didn’t say that it was out of the question.

Neighbors came to visit and they always wanted to pray. I welcomed the kindness even if the language was not the same as I was used to in my own religious practice.

This culminated in the appearance in my front yard one Sunday afternoon after I got out of the hospital of about 20 members of a little lay led church. Everybody gathered around my husband and me, but in the little village of Panacea, where neighbors still know each other, it was well known that neither my husband nor I was an orthodox believer. They were a little uncertain about how to begin with a couple of lost souls, one of whom might be facing an early death.

So I began by thanking them for their care and all the covered dinners and they began to share the value of their faith. I found that I truly agreed with everything that was said, with the exception that theirs was the only way.  Then I said that the most mistaken thing anybody can say in this situation is “Why me?” because sooner or later we must all face this sort of trouble and eventually we will all die of something. Rather, I said, a health crisis is a wonderful teacher if we can let go of anger and fear and open up to what it has to teach.

The preacher immediately added, “We should give thanks for cancer because it brings us closer to God and that is the most important thing in life.” He then turned and looked at the other members of his congregation. Nodding at individuals one by one, he said, “And you should give thanks for the breast cancer,” and you,  nodding to another, “mental illness, and you,” nodding to another, “should give thanks for that shooting, “ and you, nodding to another, “for the heart attack.” Everyone he pointed to agreed.

So, was he right? Should we not only be brave but even thankful if we get cancer? I reflected on my own case and realized that the preacher was right. In addition to the wisdom of the river, the forest and the sea, here’s what I am thankful  for.

To fully know what it is to be human, it is just as important to go through the hard times of old age, loss of social roles, illness and approaching death as it is to go through the pleasant phases of youth. The hard parts can provide insight and wisdom as nothing else can.

Cancer means one must really live in the present rather than being lost in the past or in fearful or desire ridden fantasies if the future. It makes all the difference in the world in experiencing life as the gift that it is.

I experienced the impermanence and fragility of the rational, intellectual analytical mind. It slowly disappeared when I got really sick, and it slowly reappeared as I got better. By shutting down the egocentric mind, the body actually makes it easier to face the final decline.

I no longer take positive things for granted or get all upset about the stresses of daily life.

Mortality and the impermanence of an individual lifetime become very real rather than an intellectual philosophy, but it is a wonderful aspect of reality. Birth and death endlessly produce unique new minds and consciousness, new insights and talents. If Mozart had never died,  Stravinsky could never have appeared. It is possible to let go of fear and to perceive the brilliance of the process and to know that death is part of a vaster and extraordinary reality.

I have met some extraordinary people among those who treat cancer patients, doctors who are humble and compassionate, ( I guess it is hard to be arrogant when you lose  so many patients) and nurses who keep what could be a grim setting cheerful and upbeat, giving their patients the courage to get  through it all.

I have finally been able to really drop the ego-based worries of career and finances and replace them with things I really want to do.

That consciousness can survive the death of the brain is no longer strictly a matter of faith. There is a growing amount of rational evidence that points in that direction, enough to provide hope if not certainty. If so, then death might not mean giving up the beauty of life. It might only mean a better view of the larger wonders of the universe.

So I have learned to give thanks for all the tough lessons that teach us what we would never learn voluntarily. When we stop whining, when we realize that this too is part of the experience of living a full life – then, when a major disease comes, we can truly give thanks for it. It’s an intense and rich way to live, like having a challenging teacher always in your face, forcing you to live at your highest level of insight, ability, and courage.

Reinhold Niebuhr, a Protestant theologian, said, “Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,  therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history, therefore we must be saved by faith. Noting we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore we are saved by love.

This is what I’ve learned so far.

No Regular Dinners

One day my older son wanted to enter the horse in a local county horse show. We don’t have a horse trailer but a neighbor who was taking her daughter offered to haul our horse too. “Great,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

I’d never been to a horse show and didn’t know the first thing about it. One thing I didn’t know was that to enter the ring, the horse had to have a certificate of health called a negative coggins test. Ours was expired and it was only two days before the great event.

“Not to worry,” said my friend. Her horse was out of date too and she was taking it to the vet in Eastpoint the day before the show.

“You can go along,” she said. “If you have a form saying the sample was taken, that’ll do. They may not even ask at a little show but it’s better not chance it.”

So we got an appointment for 10:30 the next day before the show. But my son’s horse, which had walked right into the trailer the last time he was moved, was convinced that ehre was a horse eating monster in there and wouldn’t budge. It took a two hour battle and a serious rope burn on my hand before we got him in and then we were late for the appointment. By the time we got there, the vet was out to lunch and wouldn’t be back until two o’clock.

There was only one thing to do — go eat lunch too. If the horse had to stand in the trailer for a while, at least it served mine right for causing all the trouble. But we were sweaty and dirty and smelled like horses ourselves.

“Let’s go to the Grill in Apalachicola,” I suggested. I hadn’t been there in several years but it had been the local cafe forever and they would be used to people who weren’t so well dressed. Fishermen with shirts so sun-bleached and salt soaked that you could hardly tell what color it once was, muddy white fish house boots and a greasy Caterpillar diesel cap — that was the dress code.

As we walked in, it seemed a little brighter than usual — somebody had cleaned the plate glass windows and there was a new coat of paint and cheerful new tablecloths on what used to be bare tables.

The waitresses all wore men’s neckties and stylish pants. Ours came up, gave us a strange look and asked if we would like the special of the day — sauteed pompano almondine or perhaps the snapper with hollandaise. And there an excellent wine selection.

My friend and I looked at each other — something was out of sync here and it probably was us. The town had been trying to change from a poor nitty gritty fishing town into a pseudo nautical tourist trap for a long time but I never realized it had gone this far!

I tried an experiment. “What’s the regular dinner?” I asked.  Regular dinners are a southern rural cafe tradition served at lunchtime where you get a meat and two home cooked vegetables that provide an escape from the cheeseburgers and fires that are the mainstay.

The waitress looked puzzled. “Regular dinner?” she asked. “No, we’re serving lunch.”

Oh, dear. And they didn’t have sweet tea either. This was hardly the South anymore. We ordered and then looked around. The place was full of exceedingly well groomed yuppie types — the women all had impeccable makeup and perfect hair. I wonder what they found to do in Apalachicola — sell real estate probably. They were all so pink and shiny. Where did the shrimpers, oystermen and mullet fishermen with their wind burnt skin and calloused hands go for lunch these days?

A flier advertised the Golden Topaz Boutique with hand carved sea birds, lace and collectibles and the dessert tray offered raspberry chamboral and strawberry grand mariner.

I glanced at my feet — there was a fleck of horse manure on my boot heel. A load log truck went by outside. They usually make me mad with the cargoes of dead trees but suddenly I was glad to see it — it was a fragment of the old real way of life.


My new book, Zen in a Wild Country: Solo Wilderness Meditation, is now avaliable on Amazon and Kindle. I hope you will read and enjoy it.
If you do, please pass this flier on to anyone you think would be interested, especially local Zen
group mailing lists..
Also, please check out my essay blog, Of Birds and tthe Rainbow, at rudloeanne.wordpress.com.
Thank you and enjoy.

There is also a new essay up called Of Birds and the Rainbow (and Taxes).

Of Birds and the Rainbow (and Taxes)

It was one of those summer late afternoons that are as sweet and rich as a rose in full bloom.  The iron heat and glare of a few hours earlier had given way to a more gentle warmth, the slanting late afternoon sun brought every color to a glowing intensity that was tinged with gold.  Green tree, red plastic roadside sign, they were all equally beautiful — their very existence was proof of the magic that underlies this world.  The towering summer clouds were ethereal castles floating above us, swirls of ivory and amethyst in a sky so blue it shook.  In the distance rain fell from several of them in purple streaks.

My son and I were driving down a rural coastal highway.

“Look at the light and color and sky,” I said. “The only thing that would make this moment more perfect would be a rainbow, but that’s being greedy, I suppose.”

“Look,” he said quietly, pointing just behind my head.

I craned around over the steering wheel and there it was — the rainbow — a double rainbow. Abundance, when it appears, is an awesome thing.

We drove a few miles further, in and out of one of the intense local showers.  Just as the sun reappeared, we came to a road that goes out into a salt marsh and dead ends at the ocean.  I drove out there whenever I could.  You never knew what it had to share.  Some days wading birds fed in the creeks, once on a storm high tide a porpoise chased fish up onto the marsh grass, sometimes there was just the open expanse of marsh and sea and sky.  I slowed down and hit the turn signal.

“Why are we going here, I thought you were in a hurry to get home?” my son asked.

“Look at the sky, maybe there’ll be another rainbow,” I answered, not really believing it or even wanting anything more than we had.  I just wanted to do it and couldn’t resist the temptation to mess with his young mind a bit.

We turned, drove past the point where the wall of trees abruptly stopped and out into the vast sea of marsh grass and glittering salt water.  I slowed down to about fifteen or twenty miles per hour and we drifted toward the open Gulf of Mexico at the end of the road.

“Aha, look,” I announced triumphantly.  In a creek the biggest mixed flock of American egrets, golden footed snowy egrets, great blue herons and wood storks I had ever seen were intent on a school of killifish.  There must have been hundreds of birds in that one flock.  As we slowly passed, some swirled up into the air while others held their intense hunters’ mind focus on the life giving water at their feet.

I knew we needed to drive out there and here was the reason why — to see the birds.  We went on to the end of the road and turned around, totally happy.  And as we turned back, there it was — the second rainbow.  It was huge, it stretched across half the sky, the colors intensifying as we watched.

“Look, mom, you were right.” My son looked at me with a slightly awed respect that children almost never have for parents and wouldn’t ever confess to if they did.

I was speechless.  Was something going down here? This was beginning to feel a little weird.

“How ’bout that,” I finally managed, as though I’d really pulled it off. “And we get to see the birds again too on the way back.”

We drove back up the road in the glowing color and light, a little faster than we’d been going.  As we passed the birds the entire flock took wing and in the rear view mirror they were framed in the rainbow.

“Oh, my god, look at that,” I exclaimed, swerving off the road and hitting the brakes.

We jumped out and stared, now truly awestruck.  Hundreds of brilliant white birds swirled above the green marsh, against the deep blue sky, completely encircled by a rainbow.  They hung and circled and rose and fell, all in the rainbow.  It seemed to last forever.

“Never, never forget this moment as long as you live.  When everything is going wrong, just remember this,” I said as they slowly settled back to the ground.

He just shook his head.  We drove on back to the highway and headed home, the rainbow still overhead.

And at home, waiting in the mail, was a bill.  Not just any bill but one that said “Florida Individual and Joint Intangible Tax Return.” They wanted $48 as a tax on my intangible assets.  How they managed to deliver it at that moment, I’ll never know.  These tax collectors must be good at their work, I mean REALLY good! But it was worth a lot more than $48.

Solo Camping

Driving to the campsite where I would stay alone for a week felt like the beginning of a bigger newer adventure than anything that could begin with getting on a plane. Although called Alligator Lake on the map, most of the land was really a wet prairie full of marshes. Cypress and black gum trees fringed the basin with red maples and water loving slash pines in areas that flooded only in rainy months. The majestic huge pines stood on open needle covered ground because the occasional standing water kept undergrowth from surviving. The slanting intense light of early morning and late afternoon created a cathedral like effect.

I was camping in the forest in search of some answers to life’s problems. Daily life is complex and frenetic. We tend to define ourselves by what we do and those affairs intrude incessantly into efforts to focus on larger life goals over a brief period of time. The mind is strongly influenced by the environment in which it is operating and, in routine daily living, tends to stay focused on business and family, personal achievement, status. Since the forest, the desert and the ocean are non-verbal and vastly transcend human ego, they are ideal settings for taking some time out to refocus. Valid insights are more easily found in a wilderness/non- human setting where the demands and desires of the ego cannot change anything. The natural world endlessly presents its truth until we finally notice it and perhaps someday comprehend something.

In the morning mists, the cypresses and cabbage palms formed eerie shapes. The forests and swamps were alive with deer, turkey and bears. The lake shore swarmed with millions of tadpoles in the spring and further out, the deeper parts of the lake were full of brim, crappie and the large mouthed bass that lurked in ambush under the lily pads. The tent was nestled in palmetto on a slight ridge in a groove of water oak.

When I arrived, two wood ducks were foraging in the cypress pond in front of the tent. After sunset, several more swooped in, passing only a few feet overhead. Walking around the backside of the pond in the last light before full darkness, I startled a big flock of robins. Their flight flushed the wood ducks out of the pond, and where I had thought there were ten, at least twenty five or thirty thundered overhead from the pond to the main lake. Swarms of lightning bugs flashed incessantly, as intense as a strobe show, so bright they lit up the ground with each flash. This lasted for about an hour and when it ended there was only the star spangled tree canopy and one bullfrog way off in the distance. As it got darker, the big oaks took on a sharp glittering beauty, with stars on every branch like Christmas trees. It seemed so simple: go outdoors and be still. It was complete and perfect. Nothing else was needed.

But the later it got, the more uneasy I felt, sitting alone on the ground in the dark. No primate had willingly done this in millions of years, ever since humans mastered fire. Sitting there was maybe more than a little dumb given that I had seen a panther near here and panthers would easily attack something no bigger than a seated human. I retreated to the tent. It might be flimsy but it looked big. That was better until ungodly howls came from the lake. Barred owls screech, cackle and howl. Maybe it was an exceptionally maniacal barred owl but it didn’t quite sound like that. The moon was nearly full but the sky was overcast. A thunderhead full of brilliant white and blue heat lightning slowly approached from the south off the Gulf. A single crash of lightning suddenly struck and rain poured for about thirty minutes.

An invisible deer went crashing through the palmetto and waded across the cypress pond. Then a snarl in the dark sounded like a big cat near the camp. Was that a panther? It came again and it was clearly a cat type snarl and too loud to be a bobcat. A rumble of distant thunder from the departing storm rolled overhead. Could the snarl have just been thunder? The thunder came from the west and the snarl was off to the east. If there was a panther nearby, this solo camping in the forest might not be safe but if it was thunder and an overactive imagination, then the situation was just silly. Eventually the night racket in the forest settled into stillness.

Starting with gratitude for that, I began to reflect on and to be grateful for the many positive aspects of life that more than equaled life’s troubles. Soon the issues that had brought me here seemed a little less difficult, a little more manageable. No matter how difficult life may be in any given moment, it is always possible to look more closely at the tiniest details of life and find something for which to be grateful. That in turn creates the possibility of being able to act from a place of well-being, to see life for the gift that it can be if we notice the details and let go of our endless opinions about how things ought to be.

Slowing Down

It’s a trip I made over and over again a few years ago, the 8 mile journey from my house to the place where my son’s horse was kept.  Usually I’d be running late, trying to get to his riding lesson with a teacher who had little tolerance for tardiness.  Rushing down the highway at 65 mph I quickly glanced at the trees of the St Marks National Wildlife Refuge along US 98, hastily appreciated the fact that I live surrounded by one of the last tracts of real longleaf pine forest left in Florida, one not chopped into fragments or totally obliterated by clear-cut logging, and then I’d speed up a little more.

Turning off the main highway onto a back road, I’d check my watch, noticing how the landscape changed from forest to the houses and pastures and woods of a rural human community.  I wish I had a decent pasture like the ones I drove past, I’d think idly.

My son and I discussed whatever was on his 12 year old mind, be it school or his horse or the latest squabble with his brother and I’d calculate whether we had enough time to get the horse saddled and him on its back before the lesson was supposed to start.  That was the normal trip.

After months of that, we moved the horse back home.  I don’t have a trailer so I rode him 8 miles back through the woods.  At 4 miles an hour, it was a different trip, a different reality in fact, compared to the usual 65 mph experience.

The first several miles was along a  back road with almost no traffic so I stayed on the road shoulder.  The sun glittered on chips of mica or glass or something shiny embedded in the asphalt surface of the cracked old pavement and the nondescript country road surface was a field of diamonds in the late morning sun.  Even though it was December, the weedy road shoulder was studded with brilliant blue and yellow wildflowers and I met every last dog in every house along that stretch of road.

Then the road turned right to join the main highway for the 6 miles back home.  Gentle though this horse was, I didn’t want to ride any horse inches away from the speeding cars of rushed preoccupied drivers like myself so I turned the other way, down a dirt road that I knew would lead to a hiking trail through the wildlife refuge.  After winding past cypress swamps and through tall stands of pines, the trail would come out onto a network of grass covered refuge roads  and one of those would take me back through the forest and along the coastal marshes to home.  I’d emerge from the forest with only one block to go along the highway before picking up the quiet dirt back roads of Panacea.

A quick canter down the dirt road and there was the hiking trail, barely visible in a carpet of wiregrass and wildflowers.  Slowing down to a walk, I slipped into a semi meditative state of mind, the warm sun a welcome gift on my face.  After a mile or so, the little used trail was invisible on the ground and I followed the widely spaced red Florida Trail blazes on the trees.  There weren’t too many, they were placed so that as you passed one you could just barely see the next one way up ahead.  Then I couldn’t find one at all.  A marked tree must have fallen or something, I guessed.  No problem.  I knew where I was and cast about to pick up the next blaze, but after making wider and wider circles I still couldn’t find it.

“Oh, well, rats,” I thought and turned the horse back in the general direction of the highway.  In a few moments, I picked up the old fence line of the refuge boundary and followed that.  It would take me along the same general route, just not so deep in the woods.  Pretty soon we were on the back side of a huge junkyard on the highway.  Fifty year old junked cars were stacked up in piles 3 high.  Human hands probably hadn’t touched them in years.  Even on the refuge side of the fence, ancient rusted human artifacts lay scattered everywhere, left from a time 80 years ago, before the refuge was established.  I’d passed that junkyard a million times by car just a few feet away and never realized it was such archeological resource.

Eventually, I turned back away from the fence and took off through the woods again.  The horse picked his way carefully, the wind sang in the trees and I felt like William Bartram exploring the Florida wilderness of 200 years before.

What is only a barely noticeable little high spot from a speeding car turned out to be a huge sand dune covered with turkey oak scrub that ran for a mile east of the highway and then dropped abruptly off into a series of little ponds circled by dwarf live oak and cypress.  One of the prettiest natural spots I’d ever seen, only a little ways from the highway, I’d passed it a million times without a clue that it was there.

All of us race up and down the straight asphalt slashes of our lives at huge speed every day, seeing only the carscape of our immediate concerns.  It seems to go on forever but it’s really only the thinnest of strips.  Out  beyond that strip is the rest of the world, the rest of our lives.

The Carousel

Revisiting childhood haunts is a rite of middle age — a time to wonder what happened to the child that was, to acknowledge the shifting nature of a human life.  When I left my home in Florida and returned to Hampton, Virginia, where I grew up, for the first time since I left there twenty six years before, it was a journey to see what was gone, what still remained after all this time.  I knew the waterfront had been totally redeveloped to attract tourists — the shabby old Victorian mansion at the foot of King Street, a block from the water, where I lived as a kid, was gone.  Its stained glass windows and stately window seats had been bulldozed to make way for the redevelopment.  Probably, the public dock at the end of King Street where the commercial fishermen tied up, the place where I was forbidden to go but constantly did anyway, was gone too.  But I wanted to see what it had been turned into.

When I got there, the massive old dock of weathered timbers wasn’t gone.  And neither was the fishing fleet.  Even though they had redeveloped everything else, built a huge museum, yuppie restaurants and all the rest, the planners had the wisdom to leave that last block alone.  The clam dredgers still flew their yellow quarantine flags, Cooper’s Marine Hardware and L.D.  Amory’s fish house were exactly as they had been.  In the midst of the slick tourist glitz something real and nitty gritty was left.  Not only left, it was alive and well.  And I knew that those years when a little kid sat on that dock, staring out into Hampton Roads, aching to go to sea, were the formative ones for me, leading to a career as a marine biologist.

Oddly enough, back up the road, almost exactly on the spot where I used to live, the centerpiece of the new urban park was the carousel.  Built in 1920, with hand carved horses and original oil paintings, it had been rescued when the old amusement park at the beach finally closed after sixty four years.

It had been a bit creaky when I used to ride it at the old park in the 1950s and the colors weren’t too bright but to a child it was a wondrous thing.  When the gates opened there was always a race to get the most beautiful horse, the one that was highest up when it stopped.  You might jump on and off three different ones before you had the right one.  And on each circuit, you could see behind the calliope, watch the drum sticks mechanically beating the drums, and the moving punched paper roll that played it like a player piano, the cymbals going up and down.

One night I was there late, the only one left on the carousel, maybe the only kid left in the park.  Somebody going home gave me a huge string of tickets, more tickets than I’d ever seen before.  And I rode and I rode and I rode, in a state beyond exhaustion, the entire herd mine to command.

Now the carousel had been restored and moved into a glass building across from the new museum.  The horses pranced and leaped — whites and bays, grays and chestnuts, blacks and palominos — some with stiff cropped manes and others that flowed and curled on their necks.  Every detail of flared nostril and veins on the legs was there.  Those old carvers knew horses, carved with a love of detail and perfection that is nearly forgotten today.

The saddles glowed with brilliant new paint, reds and golds, green and silver.  The gilded chariots with eagles and Miss Liberty carrying a flag — chariots that no self-respecting child would be caught dead in — were fit to carry gods and goddesses.  The original mirrors glittered in the hundreds of electric lights that studded the ceiling and the brass that was dull and tarnished years before shone like gold.  The once scuffed and shabby wooden deck glowed in polished golden oak.  And the calliope played and played, it’s builders name, The Philadelphia Toboggan Company, proudly emblazoned across it.

It was supper time, the museum had closed and the beautiful glittering thing was nearly empty.  One little boy had it all to himself, going round and round and round, his eyes full of wonder, holding on tight, sitting proud and straight as he rode into glory.  And after he left, it was mine — all to myself — and I rode and I rode and I rode as I had so long ago.

But I was a middle aged woman, not a little girl and when I had ridden enough, there was still one ticket left.  What to do? I didn’t want to ride again just to use up a ticket.  That would be dreadfully wrong somehow, a loss of innocence, a waste.  What I really wanted to do with that ticket was to give it to a child, preferably to a little girl.  And a little girl appeared and I gave her the ticket.

Back when I was child, in the 1950s, this little girl, who was black, could not have ridden, could not have even come into the amusement park.  Now she could and she did, picking out the highest most beautiful horse of all.  And she sat her horse proud and straight, eyes shining, and the restored carousel was more beautiful than ever.

Seasons of the Sea

On land, every spring bears the face of flowers. Right now in March, the first subtle bloom of redbud and red maple flowers in the tree tops a month ago has exploded in a riot of azaleas, wisteria and dogwoods where I live.

But the seasons of the sea, as marine biologists and fishermen all know, are as strongly marked as those on land. Right now in March, the season’s first horseshoe crabs are returning to the breeding beaches they will visit every full and new moon all summer. Manatees are returning to coastal sea grass beds, emerging from the year round warmth of coastal spring fed rivers that sheltered them all winter.

Come the full moon in April everything else will explode back into life again as well.  Pink shrimp that spent the winter buried in the sandy sea floor will emerge by the millions and swarm across the bottom in what shrimpers call the spring hopper run. Fish that moved offshore into deeper warmer water move back into the shallows even as the white pelicans are flying north overhead.

It all reverses in the fall. With the first few cold fronts, the water chills, gets stirred up and choppy.  It’s a signal to all the juvenile crabs and fish and shrimp that grew up in the warm shallow food rich inshore waters of summer that it will soon be too cold for survival. Just like birds headed south for the winter, they head offshore to deeper water, water that will stay relatively warm through the brief chill of a Gulf Coast winter.

Fall is run season for mullet — the year’s crop of fish form schools and run along shore, their bodies ripe with eggs and sperm, to spawn in deep open water.  In a few places fishermen still wait along the shore to catch them as they did 100 years ago. The mullet that complete the migration will spawn their microscopic offspring that will ride the currents back into the bays and marshes a few months later in early spring.  Rare Keep’s ridley sea turtles disappear from their crab rich grass bed feeding grounds in the fall.  Some will move south, some will bury in the mud, hibernating like pond turtles till the water warms up again.  Off Cape Cod, other ridleys are traveling south for hundreds of miles, maybe as far as Cape Hatteras to escape the lethal freezing temperatures of a north Atlantic winter, a real winter.

In the surf zones of northern Gulf Coast barrier islands from Dog Island in Florida west to the Mississippi, mother electric rays who came inshore to birth their young in August and September leave in November, headed back to offshore sand bars in thirty feet of water.  The newborn brown spotted babies will stay on, feeding on tiny worms and burrowing sea anemones until January cold forces them to remain buried and inactive until spring time.

When a fall cold front swept through one year, the November sky looked like a blue porcelain dish above our heads.  My Florida State University students and I walked along the shore, all of us bundled up against the cold north wind that was blowing with bared fangs across the water.  The full moon tide had fallen hard and fast that morning, pushed by both gravity and the wind and the mud flats were dry for a quarter of a mile off the beach.  Dry and covered with shrimp, hundreds of shrimp, big shrimp stranded as the water rushed off the flat.  Unlike the pink shrimp of spring, these were closely related white shrimp trekking to the open ocean from the muddy shallow nearly fresh water in river mouths where they had spent the summer growing from microscopic babies into big edible seafood shrimp, 6 inches long.

Their opalescent white bodies and green and black tail fans gleamed in the bright sun.  Caught by the weather, by the unusually fast fall of the wind driven tide as they moved along the shore toward the open ocean, these shrimp would not complete their fall migration from the marshes at the head of the bay out to the sea.

Their misfortune was our gain.  Scientific theory and learned discussion of marine animal migration was on total hold as the students switched from ecology to applied biology, specifically to fisheries biology, more specifically to harvesting the marine resource at our feet.  Lunches were emptied out of coolers as somebody drove to the nearest store to buy ice. Marine biology was all very well but this was dinner, this was real.