Saturday, May 17, 2014

An Open Letter to My Neighbors About Your Really Loud Sex.


You may not know me, in fact I'm sure you don't, but you live on the other side of the wall and your bed is about four feet away from my head right now. The only thing separating us is some bargain-bin plasterboard and paint. It's a pretty cheap apartment, to be sure, and I know the builders couldn't be bothered with soundproofing or insulation, because that would have raised this place to a level of "slightly more luxurious than a cardboard box" and no student can afford that extravagance. But I'm not here to talk about property values.

I want to talk to you about sex.

Specifically, yours. The noisy kind that you seem to have a lot of.

Surely you've noticed that the walls are so thin in this building that you can hear every cough, sneeze, fart, and conversation from your neighbors. I know you can hear my TV, my music, and my toilet flushing, because I can hear yours. I know when you shower, I know you watch cartoons on Thursday afternoons, and I know you two were arguing last week about flowers. That's how thin these walls are. (And that's why try to I confine my own conversations to the kitchen, where we don't share a wall.)

And I know that you have a LOT of sex. I don't want to be a buzzkill, but I really don't appreciate being woken up at 6AM by your grunting and moaning. I don't look forward to coming home at lunchtime and hearing your bedsprings creaking for over 20 minutes (although I do admire your stamina). I'm not sure if you realize that your bed sometimes bangs against the wall while you're banging each other in the evening, and this is, to put it mildly, somewhat of a distraction as I'm trying to read and get my work done.

Now, maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe your grunts and moans are part of some primal scream therapy you're using to uncover some repressed trauma. Maybe the squeaking I hear is just you working out on an exercise trampoline. Maybe the bangs on the wall are your attempts to communicate "Howdy, neighbor!" in Morse Code. I doubt this, though, because the one time I banged back, you responded by kicking the wall so hard I thought the ceiling was going to come down.

So maybe you just like having loud sex and don't give a shit.

But you have to know that I can hear everything that happens on the other side of the wall, four feet from my head. And since you don't seem to be discreet or concerned about who hears you, I'm going to presume you're open to criticism and critiques of your performance. Surely you wouldn't mind some running commentary, play-by-play as the action unfolds:

"Johnson's giving it everything he's got, he's heading straight for the tight end....there's the hand-off...yep, yep, it's gonna be a pile-driver...and GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!"

(Disclaimer: I'm not really sure how sports work.)

Or I could go the MST3K route:

"Watch out for snakes!"

"Push the button, Frank!"

"The HORRORS of Spider Island!"

And some other possible commentary:

"I'll have what she's having."

"5/10. Very difficult to masturbate to."

"Hey, she sounds better than the girl you had over yesterday!"


But seriously, stop with the loud sex.

Your neighbor who would like some peace and quiet.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Birding Update: Amelia Island and Little Talbot Island

It's been a big week, birdwise. Migration is in full swing here in north Florida, and I'm taking advantage of my location and my free time to explore some places I've been meaning to visit. This past Saturday I took a trip up to Jacksonville to explore the parks around Amelia Island and the Talbot Islands, which I hadn't been to before.

First stop was Ft. Clinch State Park. On the beach by the fishing pier was a nice mix of Laughing Gulls, Herring Gulls, Black Skimmers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Royal and Caspian Terns:

I also visited the eponymous fort in the park, built during the Civil War, but to be honest it was a bit boring. It might have been nice if there was a guided tour, but I wandered around on my own with a brochure and thought "meh". If you're into military stuff you might like it; I am not.

Ft. Clinch State Park also disappointed me due to the lack of trails; the park's pretty small overall, and the majority of the attraction is the beach and the fort. Beyond that, there's two hiking/biking trails, but there was some sort of marathon or race going on that day, so I was constantly in the way of runners. I decided to head south on A1A to the other parks on my list.

Of the two Talbot Islands, I chose Little Talbot simply because I've heard the name come up more often than Big Talbot when discussing rare bird sightings. I was not disappointed. The beaches themselves were very nice, and I drove all the way to the south beach, which had the fewest people. The birds weren't numerous, but because it was a beautiful day and the beach was so nice and empty, I decided to sit and chill for about an hour. 

Splendid Isolation
When I got up to walk around again, I noticed a couple of birds that I didn't recognize. I took some photographs to help me ID them because I'm not good with shorebirds, especially when they're in winter vs. breeding plumage. Three of the birds hung around long enough for me to sit with my book for a few minutes and positively ID them as a Piping Plover and a pair of Wilson's Plovers, two uncommon species that made my Life List.

Piping Plover

Wilson's Plover
I ate lunch under a pavilion on the beach, but lots of people had shown up by that point and it was no longer quiet and peaceful. Next stop was further down A1A, at Hugenot Memorial Park. I'd been told this was a great breeding place for shorebirds including Dunlins, which I've only seen once in my life and hoped to find again. It's also a place where you can drive your car on the beach ($3 entrance fee).

It is also where I began having a panic attack from the crowds of people.

I guess my mistake was going on a Saturday, and this wasn't even a holiday weekend, but oh my god. It was like Spring Break. Hundreds, maybe a thousand cars and people crammed on this little stretch of beach. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Laughing Gulls in their fenced-off breeding area, flying everywhere and making a racket that drowned out the music from the partiers. I parked briefly and got out to look around, and I might have enjoyed looking at the birds if I hadn't been surrounded by so many people. I wanted to cry. I needed to get out of there fast. In my haste to leave, I drove the wrong way and nearly got my car stuck in the sand, which made me start freaking out more, and then I hit so many potholes and bumps on the way toward the exit I was afraid I was permanently damaging my car, which made me start crying and then I hated myself for not being able to cope with crowds of people and for ruining what had otherwise been a good day. And when I found a somewhat quieter parking area near the exit, and tried to salvage what I could of the trip, my shoes got bogged down in mud when I walked around and then I tracked mud into my car and everything was awful for a little while.

I left the park and made a few other stops along the way and took some more wrong turns; nothing interesting to see, and there was no place to park to visit Fernandina Beach, so I wound up just going back to Ft. Clinch (entrance fee good all day) to walk along the beach there. It was kind of crowded by that point but not terrible. Trying to avoid the runners and mountain bikers, I hiked along the trails for a bit and saw a Roseate Spoonbill fly by, along with some migratory warblers in the oaks. Also got another lifer on the beach: Sandwich Terns, which weren't there earlier that morning.

Sandwich Tern, small bird in the center. You can make out the yellow tip on the bill.
Two Willets, just chillin.
Verdict: The parks are probably nicer to visit on a weekday when there's fewer crowds. Overall, I only saw 34 bird species the whole day (I spent about 5 hours, total, in the car) but three of them were lifers, so while it wasn't a total bust, the day could have been better. The weather was nice and Little Talbot has pretty beaches, so I may go back at some point, but Cedar Key remains a better spot for migration.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Birds, Birds, Birds! Big Day at Cedar Key and Lower Suwannee

So it's been a while since I wrote about my birding activities...took a drive out to Cedar Key this morning, under cloudy skies and a light mist. The rain stopped but skies remained overcast until about 2:00, which was good because it didn't get too hot, but disappointing for photography and identification. Still, the day was productive and I managed to nab 61 species including 2 lifers.

My first stop was the shell mound and Lower Suwannee Wildlife Refuge. As I turned onto the road that leads to the camping area and shell mound, I found dozens of Blue Grosbeaks foraging in the grass, and numerous Barn Swallows everywhere. The shell mound itself was kind of dead at 8:00 AM, but there was a nice flock of Black Skimmers on a sandbar.

Next stop was the railroad trestle trail, where I ran into the Alachua Audubon field trip that had come over from Gainesville. In some ways it would have been nice to go with them and get positive IDs on difficult birds, but I generally prefer to bird alone or in a very small group. There were about 20 people in this caravan and that's just too much for me. At the trailhead I got a Northern Parula and Black-throated Green Warbler, and further on, a Common Ground-Dove, and then had the good fortune to spot a Bald Eagle eating a fish out on an oyster bed. I managed to get one picture before a boat came along and scared it off:

Headed over to the museum grounds next, and had the place to myself. I stumbled upon a small flock of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks (8 males, 6 females) that I watched for a good half-hour because they're so pretty. I have a fondness for black-and-white animals in general. I wasn't able to get a really clear picture of one, but the best picture I got shows off his rosy breast very well:

Other highlights around the museum at this time included a Summer Tanager, female Black-and-white Warbler, and a Mystery Bird that I later ID'd as an Orchard Oriole -- a lifer for me! I failed to get a photo, which would have greatly helped with the ID because I didn't have my book on me and I was trying to go from memory. At the time I couldn't think of any North American bird that fit the description of what I was seeing. I later saw another one in a garden when I went back towards the railroad trestle trail in the early afternoon.

Blue Grosbeaks have taken over the Cedar Key cemetery. I probably saw well over a hundred total today, between Cedar Key and the shell mound area. The boardwalk trail around the cemetery was also a nice spot for Avocets (some in breeding plumage), Willets, and some photogenic Barn Swallows:

Male Blue Grosbeak
There was also a female Scarlet Tanager on the ground by the side of the trail. As I approached she hopped into the bushes, but it was clear she was injured or possibly just exhausted from the migration. She was holding her right wing slightly away from her body.

I then headed over into town and walked around the pier. The shoreline was surprisingly absent of birds -- no gulls or terns to be seen.  I did, however, see two dolphins and a group of at least four, possibly 5 manatees in the shallow water on the north side of the bridge on the road that I don't know the name of. (That was helpful, wasn't it?)

I didn't want to make the trip back to Gainesville without making sure I'd covered everything, so I went back to the railroad trestle trail and saw a pair of Indigo Buntings and Summer Tanagers, as well as the other Orchard Orioles. I was really happy about the Indigo Buntings because every time I saw a blue bird earlier in the day, it always turned out to be a Blue Grosbeak. I realized Indigos are a much brighter blue, which will help me in future IDs. (I know they're also smaller than Grosbeaks, but you can't always tell size when they flit into the bushes.) I then went back to the museum grounds, where nothing appeared to be happening, so I decided to leave for lunch. But as I was driving away, I happened to look over at a tree and I saw a long tail with some distinctive white spots.

Cuckoo! Yellow-billed Cuckoo! I love these birds. Every time I've seen one, it's been by random chance: I just happened to be looking in the right place without expecting to see anything at all. At this point the Audubon field trip group showed up, so I pointed out the cuckoo to them and stuck around to do some further birding on the trails that go around the museum. The best photographic highlight for me was a male Scarlet Tanager who unfortunately was injured or exhausted from migration, but made for a good subject by not moving around too much.

Also found an oak tree filled with a mess of warblers (that's a more fun term than "mixed flock") and in total I wound up with 61 species for the day, including two lifers. I was out from 8 AM to about 3 PM, on my own, without a scope, so I think I did pretty well, considering. I could have probably had a longer and more productive day had I packed a lunch. Here's the total for today, including Cedar Key, the Lower Suwannee, and alongside S.R. 24:

Brown Pelican                                        Double-Crested Cormorant
Great Egret                                             Great Blue Heron
Tricolor Heron                                        Snowy Egret
White Ibis                                               Black Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk                          Bald Eagle
Osprey                                                     Wild Turkey
American Avocet                                    Willet
Black-bellied Plover                              Sanderling
Ring-Billed Gull                                     Least Tern
Forster's Tern                                         Black Skimmer
Common Ground-Dove                        Mourning Dove
Eurasian Collared-Dove                        Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
Pileated Woodpecker                             Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker                              Great Crested Flycatcher
Gray Kingbird*                                       Barn Swallow
Tree Swallow                                          Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher                          Veery
Gray Catbird                                           Northern Mockingbird 
American Crow                                      Red-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo                                 Northern Parula
Black-throated Green Warbler            Cape May Warbler
Pine Warbler                                           Palm Warbler
Prairie Warbler                                       Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat                          Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager                                       Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak                       Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting                                       Painted Bunting
Swamp Sparrow                                     Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle                                Red-winged Blackbird
European Starling                                 House Sparrow
Orchard Oriole*

*New species for the life list. Total so far for 2014: 112 species

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When I Can't Go Home Again

In 2011, having reluctantly moved back to my hometown, I made a list of little things I would always remember about going to college in Gainesville:

"UF campus. Ward's market. Krishna Lunch. Friends of the Library book sales. The bookstore with the vegetarian cafe. The random smell of incense in stores. The way the afternoon sun shone in my top floor loft apartment. The cow pastures I lived across the street from. Tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes in the winter, waking me up with their trumpeting calls. Paynes Prairie. Discovering the joy of birding. Being poor but optimistic for the future. My first real love affair. Buying my first legal alcohol. Meeting people from dozens of countries and continents. "Hare Krishna" chants at lunchtime. Free bus service for students all over town. Groovy historic neighborhoods. That little seedy pool hall on Main Street, with Bo Diddley on the jukebox. Awesome thrift stores. Cruising around to Tom Petty songs. Meditation. Trees, trees everywhere, 500 year old oak trees trailing Spanish moss on hot summer days while cicadas buzzed deafeningly. Trails and parks and pockets of wild places to explore, all around town. Day trips to Cedar Key. Overnight trip to Seahorse Key. A small town that welcomed everyone of all races, creeds, and orientation. Freedom. Youth. A feeling that I was home."

Fast-forward 3 years, and I'm back in Gainesville, where I thought I wanted to be settled permanently...only to find out, it's not home after all. As soon as I moved back here last July, I realized immediately that it was a mistake. I'd been away for five years, subsisting on rose-colored memories of good times in college with good friends. But all of my friends have moved away, my then-boyfriend is long gone from my life, and I'd conveniently forgotten the shitty parts of Gainesville: the suicide-inducing freezing gray winters, the broiling summers with no breeze at all, the stagnant job market, the rednecks, and how much I miss living by the beach. Despite the 50,000+ student population, the town seems so much smaller than it did when I was 20.

Is it time, or my own experiences that have left me with nowhere that feels like home? When I came back to the States from New Zealand last year, I stood in the LA airport and almost broke down in tears because I realized the U.S. just didn't feel like home to me. I'd left the country to travel because I had nothing keeping me here -- no career, no significant other, no family, no dog anymore. And I fooled myself into thinking that I could visit a few countries, travel for a few weeks, then move back to Gainesville and buy a house and get a job and somehow be happy.

But that's not me. There's nowhere that feels like home to me, and I'm trying to come to terms with that being OK.

I still love Florida, and the Florida coast may be the only place that'll ever come close to feeling like home, but the more I travel, the more I realize that not only is the world so much bigger than anything I thought I could dream up, but that it's also totally feasible to live out of a backpack for months or years at a time. I like that idea. I dig it, and I'm tired of trying to live my life in the way that other people have tried to convince me that I should live it.

Ever since I was a kid I've had an obsession with running away. In second grade, whenever I needed a break from class, I'd go hide in the bathroom and imagine that the tiles on the walls had a pattern that formed a secret doorway to another world. If I could find that doorway, I could escape my boring humdrum life and go have magical adventures. And I might not ever have to come back.

By the time I was eleven, I was making maps of my hometown and elaborate plans for running away. I tried to calculate how many miles I could cover in a day, the best paths to avoid detection, where I'd hide when the inevitable search-and-rescue teams came looking for me, and the dumpsters where I could find food. I had a list of things I'd carry in my little backpack. I wondered how long I could make it without getting caught --  if I could make it out to California to become a movie star or to join the circus.

The need for escape haunted me throughout my teenage years. I suspect normal kids would learn to drive and have some of that need fulfilled, but at that age I began to suffer from crippling depression and anxiety that left me unable to leave the house, much less my town or my state. My dreams never died, though. I lived them vicariously through Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett lyrics. I needed to escape my suffocating small town full of losers, and I wanted to live on a boat and sail to exotic ports-of-call and have love affairs with strangers and the kinds of adventures that little quiet good-girl Krista was not supposed to have. 

I never did have the guts to run away. In addition to the depression and anxiety, all my life I lived in fear of doing the "wrong" thing, disappointing my parents (who shot down any artistic, bohemian, or unconventional thing I expressed interest in) and finding myself tied to a place or a job or a boyfriend and never getting to actually do the things I dreamed of doing.

But I'm going to do them now. I started travelling a few years ago, first for just a week or two on vacation, then longer trips of several weeks or a month. And I like it. Beginning in July I'm giving up my apartment, putting my stuff in storage, and taking a year off. Maybe it will extend to two years. Maybe I won't come back to the States at all. (Except California. There's still that little-girl part of me who has big dreams of L.A., and I can indulge her fantasy for a bit.) 

I no longer have any place I call "home", but that doesn't matter. When you have no home, you can't get homesick. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. "I ain't rich, but Lord, I'm free." I'm just starting to really learn what those phrases mean.

I have a lot of lost years of living to make up for.