Sunday, December 30, 2012


2012 is quickly drawing to a close and there are people I want to remember.  Brace yourself for some somber words.

Christmas is an odd time to think about the Grim Reaper but this season I cannot ignore what we all inevitably face.   I am no stranger to Death.  He knocked on my door when I was 7 and took my dad.  7 is too young to know that Daddy isn’t coming home.  He traveled a lot and so I thought one day he would be back.  Or so that is what my second grade teacher told my Mom when I started school again that Fall.

Last March, Death took my mother-in-law.  But unlike my Dad, she went on her own terms.  Kathryn lived with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for 14 years.  When we got the call on February 26 from my Father-in-Law Gerry that Mom isn’t doing well, Eric, who was on a work trip in California at the time, returned home immediately.  I followed two days later after squaring the kids away with my mother and sister.  What I experienced for the next 3 days was Holy.  Kathryn was sick but her spirit was not.  She knew her time was near and so she hung in until she had seen all her children.  During that time, we learned once again that there are so many ways to communicate how we feel when our mouths no longer move.  A look, a smile, says it all. Kathryn died on March 8th in her home with her lover beside her.

What follows is one of my favorite passages from Willa Cather’s book, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”  I turn to it when someone I know has passed away:

“In those days, even in European countries, death had a solemn social importance.  It was not regarded as a moment when certain bodily organs ceased to function, but as a dramatic climax, a moment when the soul made its entrance into the next world, passing in full consciousness through a lowly door to an unimaginable scene.  Among the watchers there was always the hope that the dying man might reveal something of what he alone could see;”

This Christmas season, my thoughts and prayers are with my friend Cathy, whose mother passed away unexpectedly on December 26th.    To Robert Donato Pinto, Kathryn Regina HibbsVoit, Arlene Shaw, may God Bless you and keep you.  You are His now until we all meet again.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The last class I took at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase was Animal Behavior.  The class was taught by Jane Huff, one of my all time favorite teachers.  By all time I mean since elementary school.  Maybe one day I will pay tribute to all the other teachers who touched my life but today I thank Jane.

At the time I took the class, I was going through some personal health issues and was a bit distracted.  It was hard to focus on the material even though what we were talking about is every animal lovers' favorite subject - animals.  And our homework?

Get out there people and observe animals!


Our final project was to report on some animal we watched, notice something about it and give a presentation in front of the class.

I didn't know what to do.  Jane, a horse lover and rider too, suggested some things for me to do at the barn but that didn't work out because I was too new a rider then to have any fun. When the day finally came to give a presentation, I was sick.  Maybe it was performance anxiety, maybe not, but Jane accepted  my YouTube video in my place.  (Commercial Break:  You can still see my final presentation on YouTube called at Feeding Stormy the Cornsnake as long as you don't mind watching a snake eat a live mouse.)

I digress.  The real point I want to make here is that suddenly watching animals do what animals do best wasn't fun anymore.  It was work.  School work.

It  may be hard to imagine but at my age school projects still cause me anxiety.  I might as well be back in HS.  Here's the thing though - that class has stayed with me ever since the way anything can have a lasting impression.  And the mark Jane's class left me with is something I never expected.  I think I am becoming more like the animals I have been watching: quiet.

Weird. I know.  But please bear with me a little longer.

I've told you about over coming fear on horseback and learning to trust  myself.  Here's another thing I have learned since hanging around the stall and riding in the ring.  Horses don't talk. (duh.)  But we human animals talk all the time.  In fact, there is so much talking there's hardly any listening going on at all.

Last Thursday my instructor worked me hard trotting Leroy, the gaited horse with the strange dressage saddle.  I did pretty good up there too if I do say so myself.  Yet I still kept doing it wrong and so my instructor kept yelling at me about what I needed to do right.  During past lessons I yelled right back. I didn't know I could be so agonistic but I figured I needed to stick up for myself and so I did.  But today was different.  Steve was yelling at me while I did my best and I did not yell back. Instead, I shut up.

Listening is an active skill, especially sitting in the saddle.  The horses have taught me that. Listening is also communication.  I am beginning to like not talking.  In fact, being quiet is serving me well.  I trotted longer and harder than I ever have before.

So, to Jane and Steve, thank you... for everything... I'm  listening still.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



There has been a lot said on the subject:

“Face your Fear.”

“Let go of your fear.”

“Fear is letting go.”

Actually, I’m not sure about that last one.  Sometimes I make things up but that is what I am thinking about today because I think I have come a long way with how I handle fear.  For the last 14 months, I have been taking Horse Back Riding lessons.   I have no business taking Horse Back Riding lessons but here’s the thing:  my daughter takes Horse Back Riding lessons and I want to keep up with her.  Then my best friend started taking lessons too, and I wanted to keep up with her!  So if I thought I was too old to get on a horse, I remembered that my best friend is older than me.  And then I got on Cheyenne.

I have put off so much this last year for the sake of Horse Back Riding and I’ve had to ask  myself why numerous times.  Why do I ride?  I am terrified.  Literally.  At first, the simple rocking of the horse unnerved me so you can imagine my “aaahhhh” when it stumbled.  (By the way, I don’t scream.  I “aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh” Lucille Ball style.  I am a red head and Lucy is one of my guiding stars.  I Love Lucy.  But here I digress…)   

Since riding Cheyenne that first day, I have ridden Kitty, Leroy, Radar, Marilyn, Sunny, Rhiannon, Cinnamon, and Starlight.  Starlight is my favorite.  Kitty is not. And I've come a long way too.  I've learned to tell my instructor when I’m not “feeling the love” or better yet, I am more direct and just tell my instructor, “I am having a panic attack,” just as I am putting my foot in the stirrup.  Those six little words work wonders to pull on my instructor’s heart strings because the next thing he always says to me is, “My goal for you is simply to have fun up there.”  FUN? Really?? 

Today, I can honestly say I am having fun.  But a funny thing happened along the way.   I am letting go and it’s not just my fear that is going.   Old notions like “I can’t” are going too.  And I am a lot calmer.  Relationships that used to be so hard are not so hard anymore.  I think it is Horse Back Riding that has given me strength and courage.

I still have days when I am anxious to ride.  It’s probably because I am uncertain who my mount will be.  I trust some horses more than others.  But Steve, my instructor, knows something I don’t.  Trust happens from within.  I thought I had to trust the horse when in fact I am learning to trust myself.  And trust is a feeling just like fear.  So when I let fear go, I make room for trust to grow and it feels great.  In fact, it feels like fun.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


September 19, 2012

What good is being a Naturalist-in-Training if I never get out for a hike?? That is, after all, what it means to be a NIT.  So today I invited my friend and fellow blogger Julie Kennon to hike with me at Sugar Loaf Mountain in Dickerson, MD, one of my favorite places to go in Montgomery County, MD.  As I walked out the door, I told Eric I’ll be back around 1PM.  That was at 10 AM.  I figure the two of us would hike 1.5 hours and the drive round trip would take 1.5 hours.  A little over 6 miles and nearly 5 hours later, I returned home happy and tingly all over.

We didn’t get lost. I swear.  Julie had an Android Ap that we could pull up anytime except we didn’t. We followed the paper trail that the staff supplies visitors at Sugar Loaf until we ran out of time.  At 1:45 PM we wondered if we would get back home before school let out but fortunately the tracking arrow on the screen led us back inch by inch to the parking lot and we arrived home with 6 minutes to spare.  Nevertheless, I am very proud of us.  We did a great job following the map.  I even figured out what the elevation changes mean as we walked up and down and round and round the blue and white trails.  (Really.  Before today, I didn’t understand how to read the swirly circles that, in my opinion, muddy the map and make it nearly incomprehensible to read.) 

So as I explained to Julie, hiking and naturing are very different.  When I’m hiking, I’m exercising or spending time catching up with a friend.  When I’m naturing (not a word, I know), I’m observing.  And while it sounds like 6 miles in 3 hours is slow, the naturalist shuffle is even slower.  When I’m naturing with fellow Audubon classmates, we don’t even travel at a rate of 1 mile per hour.

I’ll be heading back to Sugar Loaf a lot this year both for the exercise and to observe the beauty of it all.  People, you are welcome to join me in the future but please, when you do, let me know if you want to go hiking or naturing, and just maybe I’ll have you home on time.

Monday, August 20, 2012


It’s July 15, 2012 and we’re going back to Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing.  I first heard about Elkhorn while visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium last year.  I was homesick for the Chesapeake Bay and so asked a nearby guide where we could kayak and see animals?  To that Mr. Guide said, “Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing and the good people at Monterey Bay Kayaks will set you up. “ Mr. Guide was right then and he’s right now.  This is our second trip to Elkhorn Slough and it’s a must-see for naturalists looking to enjoy wild Cali animals in their native habitat, including sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, over 250 resident and migratory birds and seven endangered species but who’s counting… 

When we arrive, we discover that Tommy, at 5’4+”, no longer needs to paddle Mom around but instead can have his own kayak.    Measuring nearly 5’4” myself I’m tall enough for my own kayak too but Anna is not 5’ 4” so she rides with Daddy which is always nice because all she has to do is sit there if she wants; Eric can paddle for two.  But before we are ready to go, we need to put on rental wet-suits because its 69 degrees today and the winds are blowing at 10 knots.  (For the folks back at home dealing with 100+ degree heat indexes, 69 degrees is cold especially when sitting low on the water.)  And now we’re ready to explore the shore. 

Paddling ‘round the bend is easy because we have the tide working in our favor.  The rule of thumb is to allow 1/3 of your time paddling out and 2/3 of your time paddling back.  Another rule of thumb is to stay 75 feet away from the animals.  Really?  That may true for most people but it doesn’t apply to us.  I mean right here, next to our boat, is Fisher Pac Man, the hungry Sea Otter.  He floats around on his back munching on crustaceans all day.  We’re so close; we can see his upper and lower teeth tear away fish bones and crabs.  In fact, we can hear him!! “Crunch, Crunch, Crunch.”  The best part is Fisher Pac Man don’t care!  So we continue to follow him, three kayaks versus one sea otter.  But where did he go?  There he is!  Look - now he has two nasty kelp crabs, one on his chest and one in his mouth.  GO Fisher Pac Man GO! 

Sorry, about that… I’m a huge fan of the Honey Badger and I got a little carried away.  Anyway, after two hours of paddling against the wind, we’re ready to hang up our wetsuits and look for frogs at Pinnacles National Monument.

We’re excited to return to the reservoir at  Bear Gulch but it’s 6 o’clock by the time we reach the top; the sun is low and the cold-blooded creatures have all gone to sleep for the night except for one little foggy that Anna pounced on, grabbed and put on her face for Eric.  Last year when we were here, I packed a delicious lunch.   This year I did not – I couldn’t be bothered.  So with crummies in our tummies, we reluctantly left Bear Gulch after a short while and headed back down the trail.  Once we pass the caves, Tommy dared Anna to keep up by sprinting down the path.  I didn’t realize how fast Tommy is until I saw him fly across rocks and round bends like a natural born runner.  But that shouldn’t surprise me, after all he is a Voit and all Voits run.

It turns out leaving Pinnacles is more difficult than I thought it would be because California Quails keep popping up on the side of the road, literally.  We try at least three times to get a picture of it but the Quails are camera shy for some reason and keeping moving just as the shutter closes.  Further down the road I see a pinecone on the side that I have to have but Eric says it’s not good enough and after stopping for this one, I discover he’s right.  Eric says, “I’ll find you a better one.” And he actually does because for one thing his eyesight beyond 3 feet in front of my face is better than mine.  When we see a coyote someone shouted, “Stop the car!”  (Snap) Tommy takes the picture and gets a good one the first time.  Hooray for Tommy!  A few hundred feet further down the road we see another coyote.  “Stop the car again!!”  (Snap, Snap.)  He was closer; maybe this will be a better picture than the first.   When I see a third coyote Eric doesn’t bother with stopping the car because apparently he didn’t see it.  Apparently no one saw it but me.  Determined to get out of there, Eric makes a run for the switchbacks until we stop the car one more time to watch wild turkeys in the field and to warn them that Mr. Coyote is fast approaching.  “Look out turkeys!”  “Gobble, gobble, gobble” said the turkeys.   

Now we’re really hungry and all I can think of is that earlier in the day we passed a bunch of tex-mex restaurants on Route 25.  They all looked promising but the one we chose was the INN AT Tres Pinos because it had the most cars in the parking lot – a sure sign, says Eric, that the food is good.  It also has good cars!  Stepping out of our Escape rental I can’t believe my eyes - Porches, Alpha Romeos, Beamers, an Opal, oh my!  We had hit a road rally!!!  To be exact, we ran into the 2012 Faultline 500.  

That’s it.  But just think… we saw all that and more not on Mulberry Street but just South of San Jose.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Day Tom "Sawyered" Anna
Returning to where we last left CA seemed liked the thing to do.  So after big hugs at the airport, Tommy, Anna and I jumped into the Ford Escape with Eric and headed straight to Nick’s Seaside Restaurant in Rock-Away-Beach, Pacifica.  Rock-Away Beach is just as we left it – cold, grey and windy.  Apparently the surfers love it.  Eric says this piece of beach is second to surfing in Hawaii.  Who knew?  

For the time being, we are not the BAT team but the NATs (Nancy, Anna and Tommy).  Bobby is not here – he’s at Philmont stretching his wings, if not his back for the 35-40 lbs he has to carry across Boy Scout’s premiere national high adventure camp for the next two weeks.   But you can see for yourself – he’s not suffering.

Once inside Nick’s Restaurant we choose a booth by the window and proceed to squish Eric in the middle for missing him so much since he’s been gone.    After we bring Eric up to speed on what’s been happening back at home (which really is another story) Eric starts describing our new set-up.  Last year we stayed at The Pines at North Park in San Jose.  We know we’re not going back there but still we’re pretty disappointed.  After all, for four weeks last summer it was our home away from home.  We set up our x-box and computers and jammed away on media entertainment when we were not tooling around CA’s great state and national parks.  Now we are officially nomads traveling from one Synergy corporate apartment to another.   Eric does his best to explain the lay-out of the apartment and how the kids are going to like it just as much.  “You see” he says, “there are two great bedrooms for you to choose from.  One is bigger and has a double bed with its own door leading to the balcony and the other is tucked away upstairs; it’s smaller with only two twin beds.” 

And that’s’ when it happened – Tommy “Sawyered” Anna. 

“Anna, I’ll let you have the bigger room.”

You do remember that part in the story when Tom Sawyer convinced Huckleberry Finn to give him his apple in exchange for white-washing the fence – right?  From here on out, I have a whole new perspective on how to win friends and influence people and it’s not the Dale Carnegie way – it’s Tommy’s Way.

I am still thinking about this until Eric ushers us out of the restaurant, back into the car and says we have time for a short hike before going “home.”  Oh good.  We need something right now to take our minds off of everything.   He takes us to Portola Redwoods State Park where we follow the Iverson trail next to Pescadero Creek for a ½ mile.  Earlier in the day, Eric ran 7 miles here but we choose a naturalist pace in order to stop and look at every banana slug that crossed our path and every wild flower I can name including Trillium and Forget-Me-Not.  J 

By the time we reach our apartment it’s 7 o’clock CA time and we’re exhausted.  But there is only one way to adjust to the time zone quickly and that is to stay up.  And there is only one way to stay up at this point and that is to get ice cream.  And so, we load into the Escape once again and head over to Santana Row – Santa Clara’s poshy retail development that makes me feel a bit like I’m back on Bethesda Row, including the fact that there is NO ice cream store to be found, anywhere!  But they have frozen yogurt – yuck.  “Too tart” says little Blonde riding hood…  (Anna cannot be convinced that yogurt is just like ice cream even if we tell her how it’s not really good for you once you know how much sugar is in this popular frozen replacement.)

I know this first, half-day entry is getting long but I cannot end it before counting the outrageous cars we saw on Santana Row – First a Delorean, then a Tessla, finally four souped up vintage cars that no longer go by their original names – one was converted jeep with an exposed engine, another had ZZ Top flames, the third one had skulls and the last one was a bug sporting fins.