An Appreciation for Richard, Oscar and Mary

Thanksgiving 2013 is in our rearview window now and we are on the slippery slope to the Christmas holiday. But I prefer to linger in the Thanksgiving mode because there is so much for which I am thankful.  An example is some endearing music from my youth.

When I was a child during the 1950s my godmother, Nel, had a terrific collection of  phonograph records and the songs that I learned from those records have stayed with me for the whole of my life. The heavy vinyl 78s were my first “medium” and Nel had the very latest technology on which to play them.  It was a sleek  and modern victrola, about the height of a coffee table.  You slid back the wooden top and there was the turntable and controls.  I loved that machine and Nel would let me endlessly play the phonograph records, nearly all of which were Broadway musicals, while I colored or played with my toys.  So in those formative years of 4 to 9 I was continually exposed to the music of Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.  And there was the wonderful singing of Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Alfred Drake, Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner.

Mary Martin as Peter Pan

Accessing those original soundtracks today is a simple task thanks to the internet.  Recently I’ve been traveling down memory lane, listening again to songs that shaped my youth.  In particular I’ve been enjoying South Pacific  with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza.   For Baby Boomers like me Mary Martin is a childhood legend thanks to her enchanting televised performance of Peter Pan in 1955.  I would have been seven or eight years-old at the time and I remember it very well.  I would go around singing “I’ve Gotta Crow” at the top of my lungs and imagine flying with Peter to that place that wasn’t on any chart but I found it in my heart, NeverNeverLand.

For later generations Martin is better known as the mother of Larry Hagman.

In her role as Nellie Forbush in the Broadway musical South Pacific she sang the delightful song, “I’m Only a Cock-eyed Optimist” and it was that song that popped into my head and prompted this journey down memory lane. If you’ve never heard it just click on the link and give yourself a treat.

Listening to the soundtrack of South Pacific got me to thinking about how innovative and trend-setting that musical was in 1949. Like many of Rogers & Hammerstein‘s musicals the plot line has a distinct dark-side. In the case of South Pacific it is interracial relationships. Nellie falls for a Frenchman who is older and has fathered two children by his first wife, a Polynesian.  Nellie struggles with this fact and nearly throws away the love of her life because he has “been with” a woman of color. The sub-plot in South Pacific is a similar theme and has the young Lt. Cable singing the powerful “Carefully Taught.”  According to Wikipedia, the plot was so controversial that theaters in the South would not allow the touring production to perform.  In Northern theaters Rogers and Hammerstein, in several instances, had to threaten to withdraw the show if segregated seating was not allowed.  This was dramatic and culturally altering stuff in the 1950s.  Doctoral dissertations have been written about the role of Rogers and Hammerstein in the integration of America. We owe them a profound debt.

But from a strictly personal point-of-view I just wanted to say thank you to Richard, Oscar and Mary for creating such a wonderfully uplifting song as “I’m Only a Cock-eyed Optimist.”  I can recall singing along with that song as a young tyke, having no idea what the words meant, responding instead to an emotion that is conveyed by the tempo and the remarkable vocal qualities of Mary Martin.  As I got older and understood the words I wonder if I didn’t subconsciously begin to pattern my own life around the outlook and optimism of Nellie Forbush.  Similarly I would get chills hearing “Climb Every Mountain,” (from Sound of Music, again with Mary Martin) and there are mornings when I will break into “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” (from Oklahoma).  I can’t help but feel that this music helped chart my course, giving me a fallback point of optimism, hope, and appreciation of life.  It has served me well.  So thank you Richard, Oscar and Mary.  We could use a few more like you. ❧

Image #157 – When the weather turns bad …

It has been a miserable … wait, let me amend that.  It has been a MISERABLE day here in Western North Carolina.  It has been raining steadily since the wee hours of the morning and my rain gauge is showing more than 2″.  Our temperature has been above freezing so the precipitation has remained liquid. That will change tonight when the forecast says that snow will begin and carry on through most of tomorrow.


There really is nothing you can do about the weather except have faith that it will change and remember happier times. So on a yucky day like today I try to remember better times and returned to my photo diary to see what I was up to last year. It appears that I was hiking in the Myakka Park Wilderness area, a lovely pristine part of an already pristine place. Here’s a picture from that day.


As you can see it was a beautiful day and Myakka was, as always, sublime. On my way out the area I encountered a deer who stopped and calmly assessed my intent. I passed muster and she walked away quietly. I hope she is enjoying a warm, sunny and peaceful day. ❧

Image #157(1)

Image #156 – What Tango Found

Image #156

Tango and I went for a walk at the West Macon Track yesterday. He was off leash and a few feet ahead of me, sniffing everything in true dog manner. Suddenly he jumped back and I knew from past experiences that he had found something more interesting than an odor. I quickly gave the command for him to “Get in” which he reluctantly obeyed. Snapping on the leash we went forward to see Tango’s discovery which I thought was probably a turtle since we frequently find them at WMT.  Imagine my surprise when I saw a groundhog!

I have never seen a groundhog before except for the legendary Punxsutawney Phil, that poor groundhog in Pennsylvania that gets paraded out every year on Groundhog Day and gets televised for providing a pseudo weather forecast.  Groundhogs hibernate and Phil, in my opinion,  always has that look of someone who has been dragged out of a nice warm bed.  I know they have to fill air-time but has anyone from the SPCA ever looked into just how Phil is treated?

Well, I digress. An honest-to-God groundhog no more than 20 feet in front of me was a new experience and, from the groundhog’s reaction, the same may have been true for him/her.  We spent some time eyeing each other. Tango was straining to get at it which seemed like a really bad idea given those front incisors that could clearly take a bite out of an Australian Shepherd. Once I managed to get Tango controlled I grabbed my iPhone and took some pictures.  It obligingly posed although, in retrospect, perhaps it was just reluctant to take any action with that dog in sight.

Groundhogs are also known as whistle-pigs, a really charming moniker.  Their burrows can be up to 46 feet in length and have several entrances.  I think this one had an entrance on that hillside because once we moved on just a few steps I looked back and it had quickly disappeared.

Long-time friends are aware that the groundhog has a special niche in my life. My late husband, Robert, was a devotee of Groundhog Day and each year he sent Groundhog greetings to our many friends.  They became almost legendary and I still hear from friends on Groundhog Day who remember Robert and miss his always interesting missives of February 2nd.  He would have been as enthralled with this discovery as I was.  Groundhogs rock!

So, good luck to you whistle-pig.  Live long and prosper. ❧

Image #156(2)
A worried groundhog eyes Tango and me.

Image #155 – Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

I’ve been waiting for this guy. He’s a Junco, a Slate-colored Junco.  For some reason I am very fond of these little birds and shortly after I moved to Fawn Hill I asked my neighbor if there were Juncos. “Sometimes,” she said, “In the winter.”  And that squared with my memory of Juncos.  I first became acquainted with them in Washington, D.C.  For a period of time we had an apartment with a lovely deck just off the living room and in winter the Juncos would come and hop around searching for food.  We traveled a lot in those days and somehow never got into the bird feeder thing even though there were many varieties of birds there in downtown Washington, DC, including numerous raptors. The Juncos were only around in the winter and they charmed me with their white breast and pinkish beak.  It didn’t take long to figure out that when the Juncos arrived it was going to be cold and it came as no surprise to me that they summer in the Arctic Circle.  Forecast for Franklin this weekend?  An “arctic blast” arrives on Sunday.  ❧

Image #154 – Stalked Hairy Fairy Cup

The Stalked Hairy Fairy Cup, according to Audubon’s Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, is “Often in large groups, on dead twigs, stems, beech burs, and birch catkins.” That explains the large number of these specimens that were populating the various pieces from our recent tree removal on Fawn Hill.  There were plenty of dead or dying stems and twigs for this fungus to enjoy.Image #154(1) At approximately 1/8 of an inch (3mm) in length is is very easy to overlook this unique mushroom.  The actual cup is only 1/32 of an inch (1mm) wide.  When you get down close to it you see that is is covered with long, white hairs. Just another wonder from the mushroom world. ❧

Image #154

Image #153 – Between a rock and a hard place

Image #153With the temperature falling into the teens  last week, critters all over these Carolina Hills are re-doubling their efforts to prepare for winter.  Staying warm is a definite priority for mammals so you can’t blame a little field mouse for squeezing himself into the warmth of an aging double-wide with lots of little gaps and holes.

I first noticed mouse droppings about three weeks ago. They seemed confined to the kitchen sink area so, taking advice from my neighbor, I plugged all the holes I could find with steel wool. The problem is that field mice are tiny and can squeeze through openings that are unbelievably small, so small that humans do not even see them sometimes.  Ridding my home of mice could be a challenge and a trauma. The mechanical and chemical means of eliminating such creatures are not for the faint of heart. Remember, dear readers, this is a woman who has owned and loved gerbils.

Two nights ago I heard rustling in the cabinet where I store things like crackers and egg noodles. Tango Dog and Rainbow Cat, sat transfixed in front of the cabinet, looking up as if watching a big screen TV on the wall. I opened the door and there he was, nestled happily in the new, and previously unopened, bag of egg noddles. The clear plastic packaging made for perfect viewing. We made eye contact and then he was off like a shot.

I reapplied steel wool, moved the dry goods to plastic tubs, cleaned up and hoped for the best.

The next night, at about 3 a.m., I awoke to a ruckus in the living room. It was the cat and I knew immediately what was going on. Switching on the light I found the cat by the hall cupboard, peering intently behind it. The mouse was cornered. Tango quickly joined in the fun. Realizing there was nothing I could do, I wished the mouse well and went back to bed.  I suspect Rainbow was there most of the night, waiting for the rodent to make a misstep. Tango, being no fool, came back to bed with me.

Image #153(1)This morning the mouse was still cornered. As I came out of the bedroom I looked behind the cupboard and there he was. His little head emerged from an opening in the back of the cupboard. It quickly pulled back when he saw me. Tango saw all this too and he was back in the hunt.

Thankfully it was a wonderfully mild and sunny morning. I propped open the front door and hoped the mouse was smart enough to make a dash for freedom. It took a while for  the coast to clear. The cat lost interest and went for her pre-nap nap.  Tango stayed on the case but eventually his interest flagged as well.  The mouse, I think, made his escape. There was a brief skirmish by the door and Tango went running to the deck and down into the hedge.  I’ve seen no further signs of the mouse today.  Guess we’ll learn more tonight.  Of course there is never just one mouse …  ❧

Image #152 – Opportunity!

On Friday we had some tree removal work done at Fawn Hill. There were two really bad problems–an 80 foot Poplar that was rotted at the base and hollow for about six feet up, and some limbs on a Black Oak that had died and were hanging precipitously over the house.  One piece of the Oak had already broken lose and, like a spear, pierced the roof.

The crew was here early and it was a good thing because by midday the rains had come in and the crew headed out, leaving massive quantities of lumber staged in my backyard and driveway, Image 152(1)awaiting the chipper that may arrive on Monday, weather permitting.

Saturday dawned mild and sunny. When I looked at the pile of tree debris in my backyard I thought of one thing–opportunity!  It’s not often that the opportunity to study macro-environments at 80 feet up falls into your lap. Normally you need to strap on a lot of climbing equipment and be strong enough to claw your way up a tree with your heels.  I have neither the equipment, strength or, for that matter, the interest to even try.  Another opportunity to accomplish this goal is to visit a few places, like Myakka River State Park, where there is a tree canopy walk and you can leisurely study the flora aloft.   In my case, on Saturday, I simply needed to walk out my front door.

I spent some time studying the downed pieces. There were many things of interest. Lots of lichen…or moss…not sure which. But the limbs from the Black Oak gave me something I could identify, another addition to the growing list of mushrooms I have become acquainted with here in North Carolina. In this case it is the Crowded Parchment (Stereum complicatum).  They are the orange fungi you see on the branches at the bottom of this first picture.

But here is a much better and closer picture.

Image #152 (2)

I had studied the dead limbs of the Black Oak with some interest before the arborists arrived but I can’t recall seeing the fungi. No doubt it was on the sunny side of the branch which was some 60 or more feet in the air.  Having photographed and identified it I then learned, via the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, that the habitat for this fungi is  “On dead deciduous twigs and stumps, especially oak.”   Seems the arborist made a good cut.  ❧

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