Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fun fiction and fanciful "fotos" to frighten friends and family

Only fools and innocents wander alone when darkness falls on South Louisiana. When the sun goes down, uneasy spirits rise and roam the land, and almost everybody who lives around here knows it.

There are plenty of haunted places in these parts, patches of land tucked between snake-infested swamps and fields of sugarcane, many of them situated near the levee that strains daily to hold back the mighty Mississippi River.

Vast plantations used to stand in these places, and so many human spirits were crushed there in the name of commerce that it’s no wonder those ancient souls don’t rest in peace.

Most of the old plantation houses have been reduced by time to weed-covered rubble, but some have been restored to their original splendor, their cash crops tourists now instead of sugarcane. It doesn’t matter. Either way, the spirits have staked their claim to the property and don’t mind letting us know that in the dark of night it belongs to them.

At one time I didn’t give much credence to stories about local hauntings, and I felt completely safe, especially in the daylight, to walk the grounds of one of those restored plantation houses. To tell the truth, it felt wonderful to stroll through the gardens in the fresh, autumn air.  I took dozens of photographs of flowers, trees, fountains, and statues.

And if the Spanish moss hanging from hundred-year-old oak trees did remind me of cobwebs, well, it didn’t make the atmosphere feel oppressive.

Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed so late. If I’d gone home earlier, those good feelings would have gone with me and I'd have them now. But you know how it is. I kept wanting to take “just one more shot,” and time slipped away.

As late-afternoon shadows started to fall, a subtle uneasiness began to settle on my shoulders. The oak trees that had looked so stately earlier in the day began to seem threatening somehow. When I looked at them through my camera lens and saw limbs hanging so low they almost touched the ground, my nervousness increased. The limbs stretched across the manicured lawn like long, thick arms, and I could easily imagine one of them reaching out to grab some unsuspecting tourist.

Don't be silly, I chuckled to myself at the same moment I decided it was past time to head toward the parking lot.

I'd gone about halfway back down the path when I came upon a scene I’d passed earlier in the day. Before, in the bright sunlight, I’d thought it beautiful. A stone bathtub was nestled there amid flowers and lush greenery, all of it under an enormous, overhanging tree branch.  When I stood there the first time, I imagined a young child playing in the tub, and I could have sworn I heard the laughter of the child and the songs of birds perched high in the treetop.

Now, though, in long, late-day shadows, I saw the scene in a different, ominous light. I still imagined the child in the bathtub, but now, as the child splashed happily, I saw the heavy tree branch begin to move. It dropped slowly, menacingly, lower and lower, inching its way closer to the tub and the child inside it, and in my mind I heard the child's terrified screams as the branch descended on him and pushed him under the water.

A big shiver ran down my spine. I shook my head to clear the gruesome thoughts, admonished myself to stop being so stupid, and started back along the path. Only a couple of steps later, I stopped again, startled, unable to move forward after my eyes fell near the base of the tree trunk and registered the screaming face trapped there in the bark.

Fortunately, my feet gained their good sense before the rest of me did, and I almost ran the rest of the way to the parking lot. Once in the car, I drove away as fast as the blind curves of River Road would allow. Despite my love of photography, and despite the beauty and peacefulness of those magnificent gardens in the bright sunlight of day, I’ve never returned.

Except in my head. I’ve gone over and over that experience in my mind, trying to understand what happened. I don't think about it as often anymore, but the memory and the feelings that accompany it are especially strong at this time of year, when Halloween is near and ghost stories are passed around like candy corn. It still gives me goosebumps. I still wonder what was real.

Was the dreadful drowning I envisioned in that shadowy place entirely a product of my own twisted imagination? Or did a young boy’s spirit, captured for eternity in a screaming tree, tell me his story that day?

I don’t know. I don’t think I even want to know.

Happy Halloween, folks!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trick or treat...

...can be tutu tiring.

Photos by Jennifer Rives

I've been waiting a whole year to show you these pictures of my niece's little girl. I don't think she's usually this quiet, so I'm guessing her mom took the pictures before she collected a big bagful of candy.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Owen's growin'

My granddaughter gave me permission to snag pictures from her Facebook albums to share with you.  This is her happy baby boy at seven months old:

Several teeth have poked through in the last month.  He's not quite crawling, but he's learned  that rolling over and over will take him where he wants to go.

As precious as he looks in the photo above, the next one is my favorite of the recent batch:

I'd give anything to know what he was thinking.  What do you think was on his mind?

Photos in this post by Kalyn Hoover

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Snap! Grackles hop! (Photographing moving birds)

Do you have grackles where you live?

Several times over the past three weeks, Tippi Hedren's worst nightmare has descended upon my backyard in the form of an enormous, cackling flock (several different flocks?) of  grackles. They seemed to come from nowhere, their dark shapes flickering past my windows as they settled en masse onto the grass. So many of them, stopping all at once. Did one bird signal the rest to stop here? They made so much noise (and they all looked so much alike), how did they keep up with which bird was the leader? Was this yard a spur-of-the-moment decision, or had they sent a scout out ahead of the flock to scope out dining areas?

The picture above shows just a small area of the yard, but the entire yard was blanketed with these iridescent black and blue and purple birds. And perhaps I used the wrong word when I wrote that they "settled" in the yard. They landed softly, then hopped and fluttered  from place to place, leaping over one another like winged Chinese checkers, searching out the tastiest morsels of . . . what?

The previous photo is blurry because the grackles were in constant motion. In fact, I took dozens of photographs, and nearly all of them are blurry. And the next one is one of the blurriest of all, because as suddenly as the birds had descended, they lifted off as one and flew over the fence to a neighbor's yard.

A few minutes after the grackles left, I let the dogs outside. They stopped short just past the edge of the patio. You can see by the tilt of Kadi's ear that the enclosed yard she's so familiar with had suddenly become rich with possibilities.

Until I saw the dogs' reaction, I hadn't considered that several hundred grackles were doing more than finding food at this particular rest stop.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What I've been doing instead of blogging

Wow, it's been a month since my last post? Are you serious?

I knew it had been too long (my smirking, goody-two-shoes, inner faultfinder has been calling it to my attention regularly), but I didn't realize a whole month had passed.  I've been busy doing other, non-fascinating things:

Medical stuff.  Making an appointment,  going to the lab for blood work, and going to the doctor.  Because if I didn't, I couldn't refill my prescriptions again.    Standing in line at Walmart to get prescriptions filled, not checking the prescriptions until I got home, even though I realized they cost more than usual.  Discovering after I got home that one of the prescriptions was for twice the usual dosage -- which made it five times more expensive.  Calling Walmart and finding out that once I left the store with the wrong prescription, they wouldn't take it back.  And because the error wasn't the pharmacist's, there was no adjusting the price, either.  Learning lessons the hard way.


Counting carbs.  Cutting sugars and starches out of my diet. Boiling eggs, scrambling eggs, frying eggs.  Realizing, once again, that I don't much like leafy, green vegetables. Scouring the Internet for low-carb recipes. Learning to love rotisserie chicken.

Refinancing the house. Mortgage rates are so much lower now than they were when we bought the place 13 years ago that it seemed foolish not to try to refinance.  But, ohmigosh, the paperwork!

Taking Kadi and Butch to the vet.  One at a time.  That's two trips into Baton Rouge.  Two hours of total driving time.  They needed their annual checkups and shots. Both of them are doing pretty well, "considering how old" they are.  Each of them is dealing with age-related issues, with which I completely identify.  Spoon-feeding them, still.  Who knew they'd take to this idea so eagerly?  They deign to take an occasional bite from their dog dish on the floor, but they get jump-up-and-down excited when it gets close to suppertime. Loving them, 24/7.


Cutting my own hair.  It's getting harder and harder to get the back even, and the pile of clippings gets grayer with every cut.


Genealogy.  I never get tired of snooping the trail to track down one more long-gone ancestor.


Reading other people's blogs.  And checking out news sites, reality TV gossip sites, puzzle and game sites.

Keeping up with family and friends on Facebook.  You think I'm bad about blogging? I almost never post anything on FB.  But I do enjoy reading what my daughters, grandkids, sister and nieces are doing.


Reading new books and rereading old ones.  I spent a glorious few days living a horrible existence Under the Dome in a Maine town full of characters born of Stephen King's imagination.  Then I moved south to Mississippi (and back in time to the 1960s) to get acquainted with the patient ladies who were The Help.  Still time traveling, I lived in the Tennessee plantation-home-turned-Union-Army hospital with The Widow of the South. 

Keeping up with my favorite TV shows. These days I check the television schedule days in advance and set up the DVR to record the shows I enjoy. Fast-forwarding through all those commercials saves me lots of time.


Playing Sudoku and Mahjongg on the computer for way too many hours.


Visiting all the houses I've lived in on Google Maps Street View.  I hope the people who live in this home now enjoy it as much as we did in the late '60s.


Taking photos while Kim melted glass for the beadmaking tutorials she's been writing.  This has been a fun photography project.  


Editing photos in Photoshop Elements.  I can easily pass a whole day playing with my pictures.  Or even just enlarging them and looking at them, really.  It isn't the photos that I love so much; it's the subjects of them.


Making music.  If you can call it that.  I've never had a lesson, but I've learned to pick out a few songs on this old keyboard that was a gift in the mid-1980s.  I've also learned to ignore the many false notes I hit; they do not count.  The keyboard lives near my back door these days, and when the dogs go outside, I indulge my inner Liberace while I wait for them to come back in.


Listening to music.  All those activities above that are done on the computer? They aren't done in silence.  I was given several iTunes gift cards last year, and I've put them to good use.  Music has always been an important memory trigger for me, so it's been fun to create playlists of songs I've loved through the years. As for new music, I find most of it on TV and movie soundtracks.  When I hear a song I like, I jot down a long string of lyrics, Google the lyrics to learn the song title, search for the song title on YouTube until I find out who sings the version I like, then order the song on iTunes.  That'll work until the gift cards run out.

Sometimes I like to pull up a list of all my iTunes songs, scroll up and down the list several times with my eyes closed, then stop scrolling and click the mouse to give myself a musical surprise.  Whoooeeee, there's a lot of spice in my life!


So that's it.  That's where I've been.  Not very much to blog about, is it?