Friday, May 30, 2014

The Invasion

Sometimes things that happen while I’m gone rambling are more entertaining than what I’m experiencing. Here’s what the NearNormal-Traveler, DM, reports:

Chittering squirrel
I was in my research laboratory yesterday afternoon, doing manly things, and realized I was hearing the chitter/barking of an upset squirrel. Having had two hawks fly just over my head recently I surmised one had made itself at home in a tree in the backyard and the local denizens were not appreciative of the incursion. Not an unusual occurrence.  I poked my head rather cautiously out of the doorway so as not to influence the balance of nature and discovered the complaining party was on the rain gutter of CL’s studio, staring my way. Upon seeing me the wronged party increased the volume and venom level as it started shaking its whole body to further project its impatience at my negligent attitude towards keeping it supplied with sunflower seeds.

Squirrel after sunflower seeds
Being a sensitive and caring individual I proceeded to see to the well-being of our local fauna. Within seconds three of the little buggers were at the business of putting on fat for the coming winter. A little early perhaps, but putting it away they were. I obtained a small dollop of a certain amber colored adult beverage and assumed a supervisory position on the patio. The temperature hovered around 68oF and all was well and peaceful once more.

And then from the west came the invasion. They were spread out in a skirmish line at first – well spaced and devilishly organized, ransacking every hiding place for their prey. Then they started imitating Brownian movement personified, flitting in first one direction and then another at a speed which defied description. They would rustle through the plants, then bounce off a tree and then leap over one another, reversing direction or jumping straight up in the air seemingly at random, but one knew just watching them that every movement was a calculated step in the complete annihilation of something, but only they knew what.
Carolina Wren

They reached the eastern fence and upon an unseen/heard signal doubled back into the midst of the squirrels (and me) where they continued their chaotic pursuit of, well, I still have no idea what they were after. This was the largest concentration of Troglodytes I have yet to witness. There were at least eight of them. Whether it was a family group or a seldom observed example of speed dating, I have no idea. They hung around for a good five minutes totally ignoring the squirrels and me. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone.

Then I went inside knowing things were NearNormal.

Four hungry squirrels
©2013 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dallas in bloomers

The day is overcast and threatening rain on this muggy school day. So just why are there a bazillion kids and their beleaguered teachers/chaperons at the Dallas Arboretum? Back in the 1990s a committee of Arboretum members, teachers, and researchers came together to discuss how to get children involved in the gardens on more than a superficial level. We’d planned places for kids to dig in the dirt, harvest vegetables and fruits, and
Misting Dragons
perhaps play in a maze. We thought about open spaces for running and screaming, and winding trails among the flowers with simple signs about what they were seeing. Not in our wildest dream did we imagine the
Children’s Adventure Garden. This is a high tech learning area with solar, water and wind energy features (kids and adults can step into the tornado booth), several trails in which docents can lead plant exploration walks, and some covered areas for hands-on activities. There is also a state-of-the-art building with computer driven information to explore.
Sword in the Stone
There are areas for the kids to play, as well. They can run between dragons and pull Excalibur out of a stone in a very simple maze area that leads back into a part of the learning gardens. This is all in addition to the traditional area of the arboretum.

Jackrabbit Sculpture

Wandering through the gardens is still a peaceful experience. The tulips are in bloom, as are the pansies and the
azaleas. There are great views of White Rock Lake and lovely areas to simply sit and enjoy. Waterways weave around of the grounds, some pouring over rocks making a charming accompaniment to the red, lacy Japanese maples. Semi-permanent exhibits are on the grounds; this time
Owl House
of year it is bird houses, some in the shape of birds. And there is a giant peacock holding court over the blooming redbuds and dogwoods. We thought about taking a picnic lunch and sitting among the flowers, but opted for eating at one of the outdoor cafés since the costs are reasonable. Hitting the café at noon meant a wait in line, but when it’s a pleasant day and the view is pretty, who really minds?

Peacock Topiary
©2013 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Odds and Ends

Tower Bridge
There are always odd and unrelated occurrences on trips. This blog is composed of images that I didn’t fit in anywhere else. For instance, we saw the Tower Bridge and once again did not make the stroll across. We did, however, walk across the new Millennium Bridge from the Tate Gallery of Modern Art to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Friday, May 9, 2014


Epitaph at Hawkshead
On every trip there are some things that really stand out. Although I got to check three places off of my ‘bucket list’ (St Melangell’s shrine, Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm and Gallery, and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter), there were other places that we went that were surprising, moving, and unforgettable.

Rannoch Station is the end of the line: for the railroad and for the ‘B’ roads. What’s out there are the moors. When I was in grade school we read a story about a young girl who lived on
Sunrise on the moor
the moors in Scotland and that sparked my imagination. That vision of the moors was further fueled by Sherlock Holmes stories and movies. However, I was completely unprepared for the reality of the Scottish moors. First I had no idea that they would be surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Aren’t moors supposed to be low-lying bogs oozing mud and bugs? Well, there were bugs and bogs but there was no mud. We were told to be extremely careful hiking out onto the moors because they can be quite unforgiving, taking the lives of unsuspecting or careless hikers each year. When I stepped down onto the thatched vegetation water oozed up and as I took another step there was a sucking sound threatening to pull my shoe off of my foot. As the evening approached, we
Moor deer
watched from a rock that had been around for a few thousand years the last train cross the trestle and a herd of deer head toward their nightly feeding area. Looking across at Loch Rannoch it was easy to believe that we were the only people on the moor that day. Except for the trains (four a day), the only sounds we heard were birds songs; no traffic, no human voices, no sirens. There are six full-time residents here, with tourists flowing through the area in the spring, summer and fall. Gorse, a beautiful but prickly shrub, is common on the moors, as are all sorts of lichen and heather. I was hoping that the heather would be in bloom, but we were a few weeks early. Two days after we left, it snowed on Rannoch Station. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

Like the moors, the Isle of Skye was ruggedly beautiful. Animals and people who live there have to be hearty. The wind blows, it rains water just short of ice, and the temperature never gets
Highland Cattle
really warm. But the air is clear and waterfalls plunge off of cliffs into the sea or down the side of mountains covered with brilliant yellow blooming gorse. Black faced sheep with thick, plaited wool wander at will eating the lush grasses. Farmers keep a healthy strain of cows with long shaggy red hair, Highland Cattle. Like the sheep, they can withstand cold, rain and wind. This is a very interesting geologic area. There are peaks, plateaus, and valleys that were formed from volcanism and glacial movement leaving stunning craggy areas covered
Waterfall near Kilt Rock
with verdant grass. Also in this area are dinosaur trace fossils; Ornithopods, Megalosaurus Cetiosaurus and Stegosaurus called the Isle of Skye home. What I don’t understand is why anyone in this windy area would wear skirts or kilts of their own accord. This is another part of the world I would return to with no hesitation. 
Highland Sheep

Without a doubt Rosslyn Chapel was the most interesting and beautiful of all of the religious sites we visited. Built in the 1400s, William St. Clair had intended for this to be the start of a huge cathedral.
Rosslyn Chapel
However, the relative who inherited the chapel and land was not particularly interested in completing these plans and literally slapped a wall on the end. During the reformation, the St. Clair family decided to abandon the chapel rather than tear out all of the catholic related art, although angry mobs came in and ripped out alters, statuary, and other catholic relics. Inside, there is seemingly no spot that is not exquisitely carved. The carvings were to function as a visual guide to the Bible. There is the story of the Garden of Eden, the seven deadly sins as well as the seven virtues, the angel of death carrying people into the hereafter, fallen angels, devils, Moses with the 10 Commandments, and so forth. There are also ‘green men’; these male faces have plants growing from them. Somewhere along the line the family St. Clair split, adding Sinclair as a family name and the chapel began to be restored. These restoration efforts were short-lived and Rosslyn Chapel fell back into ruin. This changed in the 1840s when a young woman viewed the ruin and proclaimed it a ‘gem’ that should be restored. Fortunately, this young woman was one who people listened to, Queen
Rosslyn Castle
Victoria; and standing in an alcove is a Madonna that looks surprisingly like her. The restoration work continues to the present. The metal roof that had been in place covering all of the Chapel since 1997 had just been removed so we were able to see the entire exterior. We thoroughly enjoyed the 25 minute lecture our docent gave about the Chapel, and we really liked being greeted by the resident Chapel cat, Michael. Down a trail through a cemetery and around the middle of a hill are the ruins of the Rosslyn Castle. The walls are under restoration but there is a house that is occupied by descendants of St. Clair/Sinclair. There is lavish vegetation with lots of walking trails going all the way down to the town of Roslin.

These three amazing places will stay in my memory and fire my imagination for years to come.

©2013 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Making history and movies

For someone who has never been a history buff I’ve done a great job of inundating this trip with historical information. One of the oldest places we visited was Stonehenge. On the bus to the area we passed field after bright yellow field of blooming canola plants. This spectacle was enhanced by the ever-present sheep with their lambs. Stonehenge is surrounded by fields of grass and oodles of sheep and lambs. In the past you could drive up to the site, walk across a road, and then among the stones. Because tourism has increased, there is a new visitor center with shuttles that take visitors out to the stones. And Stonehenge was everything we expected, particularly since we could get closer to the stones than we anticipated. The audio guide gave lots of information about the site, the culture that built Stonehenge, the geology of the stones, and a host of other facts, suppositions, and theories supported by research. Of course, we spent as much time as possible with the stones and almost missed our bus back to London!