So, I encounter messages all the time. At least hundreds, if not thousands, daily. Some of them are easy to quantify — like emails, text messages, social media messages, advertisements of all sorts. But the ones I’m concerned with here are the unexpected ones, out in the wild, or among the many rabbit holes of the internet. I saw the message featured at the top of this post for the first time this past weekend, in the Couturie Forest in New Orleans City Park.
These next two, below, are images I captured during a walk in City Park toward the end of April. The acid etch in the concrete is straightforward, no misunderstanding the intent there. But the figurine? No clue. Her missing arm is very disconcerting to me. It was a little after 6am, and I only saw her that one day, April 25. The best interpretation I could come up with was that she was part of some kind of treasure hunt, maybe a low-tech or no-tech geocache. Or maybe there was a tracker stashed up in that broken arm.
I’ll wrap this up with a quote I encountered for the first time this week, that I found really moving. I’ll leave the attribution blank, but that’s an interesting story of itself. At first glance, it appears to be from the Talmud, going by the memes that pop up around this quote. But digging a little deeper, it likely should be attributed to Rabbi Rami Shapiro, from his book, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages: A Modern Reading of Pirke Avot, which is out of print. I think he took some ancient text and shaped it to make it more accessible to a modern reader. At any rate, I’m glad he did, because it feels particularly salient now:
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Hoping to find the exact path and the exact target week over week, quarter over quarter, is simply impossible. Despite knowing how to read the stars, sailors had to tack with the wind, leaving a wake like a zig-zag.–David Schwarz
Of course, the quote struck me as hugely relevant, with my propensity to “live my life a quarter mile at a time,” just like Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto. And, the timing was good, as I had planned to post a special “Quarter Report” this week, anyway.
What’s so special, you may ask? The specialness concerns the cypress tree pictured above. It’s in City Park’s Couturie Forest, a spot I’ve featured in this space before (most prominently in The Summer Tanager, and City Park Pictorial, Part 3). That cypress is near a picnic table, and next to a very showy live oak — it’s in sort of a natural contemplation / stopping point.
Sometime last year, I really took notice of this cypress. Specifically, the texture of its leaves, or rather, its needles. They are lacy, and soft, just like every other tree of its kind — no revelation to anyone who’s paid attention. I suppose I had never paid such close attention before.
I contemplate my writing quite a bit during my walks in the Couturie Forest, and it was the laciness of the greenery that struck me. As I was trying to conclude a series featuring a protagonist named Lacey, it was a natural connection to make. I dubbed the cypress the “Lacey Tree,” and committed to capture all its deciduous glory over the course of the coming seasons.
So here you have product of that effort. There are a thousand correlations I could make. . . did I despair that I’d never finish the story as I gazed on its spindly, denuded limbs in December? Did the suspense of awaiting new growth in March threaten to distract me from writing?
The answers are probably yes and yes, but there’s a big difference between my writing and the Lacey Tree. I don’t know how old it is, but the Internet tells me bald cypress trees can live up to 600 years. So there’s a good chance the Lacey Tree has been shedding and regrowing its foliage for some years before I ever showed up. As well as a stellar chance it’ll keep doing its thing long after I’m gone.
My window of opportunity to write the stories I want to write is significantly shorter. And my seasons and their effects are not as reliable. Requiring me to do something the Lacey Tree, despite all its magnificent, seasonal, verdure, could never do: tack with the wind.
I spotted a cardinal on my Sunday walk. It feels noteworthy, and worth mentioning here. Though when it comes to ideas of what the cardinal sighting might signify, I’ve come up a bit empty.
So I’ll start with a comparison to my last red bird sighting, chronicled here: The Summer Tanager. The location was the same: City Park’s Couturie Forest. And the two birds’ smallish size was roughly the same. But the birds looked very different — the tanager was a brilliant, uniform red, with no crest. The little guy I saw last weekend definitely had a crest, but the feathers were reddish-brown. More similar to the photo above, than to the St. Louis MLB mascot.
As to what the little bird was trying to tell me, maybe it’s just that Spring is almost here. Returning home, I captured the other photo featured here. Two Japanese magnolia trees guard the entrance to the tennis courts on Marconi Drive. A branch on the southernmost one framed the walking path, my way home, just so. I posted the photo to Instagram, with a comment about the vernal equinox being just days away.
Writing-wise, I have some specific intentions for the early days of Spring. The time has come to apply a critical eye to my marketing efforts (for my two novels, and the upcoming third). My advertising exploits have been haphazard up ’til now. And who am I kidding? They will probably continue to be somewhat haphazard for a bit longer, while I figure out what works better than not.
Maybe the little cardinal was a sign that paying attention to my author outreach, at this point in time, will be time well-spent.
Magical thinking or not, I can’t help but think positive things when I see the little red birds.
On a quick jaunt into New Orleans City Park’s Couturie Forest, I thought of a term I remember hearing in my youth: riprap. Riprap is “loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure.” That’s what my dad called the broken concrete that lines the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. The levee that rings the south shore of this brackish lake was just a two-block walk from the house where I grew up, so I spent much of my childhood around riprap.
I think the word is still in use, I just don’t hear it much anymore. Perhaps because my day-to-day life does not involve constructing shoreline structures. (More’s the pity.) And the purpose of this post is not to share any deep observation about figurative, or metaphoric, riprap. I’m coming up empty, there. So instead, I thought I might share a few details about Laborde Mountain.
Laborde Mountain sits within City Park’s Couturie Forest, and the Internet tells me it was made from riprap derived from the construction of nearby Interstate 610. (Which, coincidentally, is the Interstate that is overpassing in the title of my novel, The Incident Under the Overpass.) The peak of Laborde Mountain is 43 feet above sea level, and is the highest point in the city of New Orleans.
Here are some pictures, where you can see the interesting composition of riprap around here. That’s it for today!
-Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost
There was nothing snowy nor frosty about the Couturie Forest, when I finally returned there one morning in early June. But it was so quiet and tranquil, the “lovely, dark and deep” line immediately popped into my head. I felt my mother with me—she was always one to quote poetry, or song lyrics.
I was glad the magical power I experienced there, during my trip last month, still held. To recap, the Couturie Forest is a part of New Orleans City Park, described on the City Park website as “the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town.”
Indeed, the transportation spell is cast as soon as you cross the bridge into the forest. The sounds from the nearby road disappear. Signs of pestilence dissipate. (Prior to entering, I had some really bothersome horseflies after me. They did not follow me into the forest.)
The pictures featured here are all from the visit I made two weeks ago. I’ve returned once more since that time, and I intend on making many more visits in the days ahead. When there’s a surefire way to recharge my spirit in such close proximity, I’d be a fool to stay away.
On Memorial Day morning, I got up with the sunrise, with the intention of capturing some photos in City Park’s Couturie Forest. I visited there a few weeks ago (without a camera), and wrote about the experience here.
For the next several weeks, I intend to post more picture-heavy posts, rather than word-heavy posts. I’m going off the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words. Because I really need to get cranking on the third and final story of the trilogy I’ve been working on. For what feels like forever. Certainly longer than I’ve had this blog.
So anyway, the intention with the pictures, is that maybe I will channel the writing energy into the novel, while still sharing glimpses of the things I find compelling about this strange and wondrous city.
As it turns out, the Couturie Forest pictures will have to come at another time. A pad-locked chain link fence kept me from entering Monday morning. I suspect it doesn’t open until after 7 a.m., and I was a bit early. So I trekked about another half mile north to the City Park Fishing Pier. It was a beautiful morning, and early enough so that it was still cool.
I checked the Couturie Forest gate on my way back from the fishing pier–no joy. (It was still a few minutes before seven o’clock.) I will try again next weekend.
Last Saturday began with no agenda, other than to get out and get some exercise. And to do this unplugged. I walked out my front door, maybe fifteen minutes after the official sunrise time of 6:14 a.m.
The next hour (plus) went a long way toward recharging my battery. Funny how unplugging can do that. The only reason I missed my phone was for its camera. It might have been nice to capture some photos of the eastern sky, which was awash in color for the first part of the walk. But I did get one shot before I left the house:
On the latter part of the walk, I took a detour into City Park’s Couturie Forest. It had been years since I’d ventured into this sylvan escape, even though I pass by it multiple times in any given week. Even on my more ambitious runs of days past (Saturday’s excursion was maybe 30% run, 70% walk), it didn’t make sense to venture into the forest. The paths there are definitely not meant for running, and I never felt I could spare the time to meander.
That feels foolish on my part, in retrospect.
Here’s a description of the Couturie Forest, from City Park’s website: “. . .the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town! Combined with Scout Island, the 60-acre Couturie Forest is a nature-lover’s haven filled with native trees, scenic waterways, and fascinating wildlife — all in the heart of the New Orleans.”
It really is magical: you cross a small bridge, step onto a path, and instantly, the canopy of trees overhead muffle the sound of the roadway, no more than forty yards away. Well, that’s a guesstimate. . .the road is close, I know that much.
The highest point in New Orleans lies within the Couturie Forest. Climb Laborde Mountain, and you’ll be 43 feet above sea level. That was my first stop. There’s not much of a view, because the spot is surrounded by trees. But it sure is quiet up there.
There’s a lot more to write about the Couturie Forest, and I plan to visit again soon (with a camera). In the interest of not getting too long-winded, I’ll skip to my sighting upon exiting the forest. Around the bridge that marks the entrance (and exit), I saw a bright red bird, pecking away at the ground. It was still early, so maybe there were worms.
“A cardinal!” I thought. ‘Round these parts, I see robins, and blue jays, and these very loquacious green parrots; but cardinals are a lot rarer. But this little one didn’t have the features I’d associate with a cardinal: no black markings on the face, nor the comb atop the head.
I thought of my mother. . .while she wasn’t a birder, she was always one to pick up on the details of flora and fauna. I also thought of fellow blogger Dr. Rex, who wrote a lovely post about the meaning behind red birds and cardinals. (I hope you don’t mind me linking here, Dr. Rex!)
After conducting some sleuthing when I got back home, I decided the little red bird was a Summer Tanager, a member of the Cardinal family. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab has a very robust online library, that’s where I picked up the picture at the top of this post. (I hope I covered all the proper photo credits).
As often happens, I want to tie some direct spiritual or metaphysical meaning to my sighting of the Summer Tanager. It’s an exercise I have to remind myself, just as often, that’s fraught with peril. Trying to correlate cause and effect to these types of things never works out like I think it might. So I’ll just tie it to feelings. The things I was thinking and feeling during my unplugged walk, and the things that jumped out at me as I looked for the bird on the Internet:
I’m anticipating a convergence of my family members, coming into town for an upcoming wedding. It’s my niece’s wedding, she’s the second one of the next generation to get married, but it’s the first one my mom won’t be around for.
The first person I thought of when I saw the Summer Tanager was my mother.
The first line in Dr. Rex’s post about red birds is: “A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you.”
So without going any deeper, I’ll just say that I’ll take this as an article of faith: that my mother will be with all her family as they gather here in the next week or so, in our hearts and memories. May her gentle spirit bless all the proceedings.