here, now: turtles

TWU Turtles

A few months ago, I discovered the university’s garden. I was taking a break from grading and needed to stretch my legs, so I wandered over the part of campus I hadn’t been to before. I came across a small pond. As I walked up to it, I heard and saw a splash. “What was that?” I asked aloud. A small shape moved through the water and further out a head poked up above the surface. “A turtle!” I exclaimed with surprise.

You see, I had gotten used to not seeing turtles in ponds. There are no turtles native to Britain; any turtle seen in the wild is likely an escaped pet. Being so far north, the UK isn’t an ideal climate for reptiles. (Of course, I learned this after asking innocently where the turtles were, and was mocked mercilessly by the Powells. This post is for you, Ros.) Although being back in Texas, I had forgotten that I would likely see turtles in ponds.

And so, the university ponds might not have ducks or swans, but I still am delighted when I see the turtles sunning themselves on the rocks among the lily pads.

Photo: Turtles on a rock in a lily pad pond, Denton, TX.


The high today was 77 F/24 C. Bright sunshine without a cloud in sight. The sun rose at 7.30am and set at 6pm, giving us almost eleven hours of daylight. For lunch, Kelly and I sat outside eating tacos and quesadillas, basking in sunlight.

The sun shines harsher in the desert. Here, it is dry and dusty, the trees hunched over scrubby brush and the dry gold and brown grass. The beauty is unique. You learn to appreciate the varying shades of brown, of rock and dirt and hard ground. Despite the dusty green and gnarled brown trees, a pale blue sky, dry grass, you can have a tree full of birds: swallows, mockingbirds, blue jays, a cardinal flashing red. It defies all logic, but the sky is bigger in Texas. One has space to breathe, to stretch out one’s limbs, to look far and wide, and relax.

It is good to be home.

Over the frozen sea

Crossing the brilliant sea of white clouds reflecting the sun, the clouds parted after some hours and out of the steady, solid blue of the Atlantic came this: sea ice.

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IMG_9393(Click photos to enlarge.)

Can you determine what is land, what is sea, and what it ice? Look closely enough and you can even see the cracks in the ice floes…

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These last three are in reverse order than when I took them in order to demonstrate how we flew along the delta of a frozen river, somewhere in New Brunswick, I think.

What beauty, what stark contrasts, what chill runs through my bones when I consider such thing as a frozen sea. I knew it existed of course, but had never seen it with my own eyes. I wonder what it would be like to walk along the ice, to live in such a forbidding place such as this. I was reminded of the folk song Frobisher Bay, here sung by the St Andrews Madrigal Group:

Cold is the arctic sea
Far are your arms from me
Long will this winter be
Frozen in Frobisher Bay
Frozen in Frobisher Bay

“One more whale,” our captain cried
“One more whale and we’ll beat the ice.”
But the winter star was in the sky
The seas were rough the winds were high.

Deep were the crashing waves
That tore our whaler’s mast away
Dark are these sunless days
Waiting for the ice to break.

Strange is a whaler’s fate
To be saved from the raging waves
Only to waste away
Frozen in this lonely grave.

Craigowl Hill

For our adventure this past week, F. and I went hunting for snow. Although the whole country has been covered with snow the past couple of weeks, most of it hasn’t stuck in the coastal areas like where our Town is. Fortunately, we didn’t have very far to go: just a short bus ride north to Dundee and a bit farther to Tealing, and suddenly there was SNOW. We stepped out into thick snowfall, catching snow flakes on our tongues and laughing in disbelief at just how much snow there was.

We spent the afternoon tramping through knee-deep snow, sometimes falling into even deeper drifts, and going up to Craigowl Hill. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the top, but we had lots of fun besides.

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I hope we have another chance to go out in the snow… I still haven’t made a snowman this winter!

Ben Cleuch

This past week F. and I took Wednesday off instead of the usual Monday. Taking a 7am bus, we went to Tillicoultry to go hillwalking in the Ochils of Clackmannanshire. It was a misty, drizzly, windy day. We climbed The Law (638m) and Ben Cleuch (721m) whilst walking the Ben Cleuch Circular. As we walked through the glen and climbed up the hills, we saw the clouds drift between the hills, quickly obscuring the town from view. We met only three other people the whole day. We really had escaped civilization.

I borrowed hillwalking gear from my friend Joanna, and so hiked with walking sticks for the first time. We used all the light available to us on these short winter days, so we were out hiking for 8 hours. I’m very proud of myself for keeping up: it was only seven years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. None of my joints were sore afterward (though quite a few muscles were). I’m so glad to learn that I can do this: be outdoors and enjoy myself without worrying about my arthritis.

Here are a few pictures, and they are evidence enough of what a beautiful, stunning place Scotland is.


It was a long, wonderful day.


October has seen the days alternate between the two extremes of autumn: dark, grey and blustery days, and bright, crisp clear days with crunchy leaves and colours in the trees. Today was one of the bright autumn days.


A sunrise dusted with gold and peach and orange, an exchange of good-morning meows with one of my feline friends on my way into town, the air full of birdsong and sunlight: the day was already off to a good start. After work I took a very leisurely walk home via Lade Braes. There the trees were turning, the river sang, a heron stood on the banks. I stopped to look at the leaves, to watch the heron, revelling in the autumn afternoon, thinking my own thoughts and enjoying my own company. The sun was setting as I turned towards home at last, setting the clouds alight, bright and fleeting.

Favourite things

‘The’ heron:

‘The’ local heron is difficult to take a photo of: this particular picture is from a couple of years ago when I happened to have my camera with me while walking along the Kinnessburn. (‘The’ in inverted commas because there are actually three herons, but one usually only sees one at a time. And despite seeing three herons flying together, I’m still somewhat skeptical that all three live here year-round…) But seeing the heron always makes me smile, especially now that I’ve been seeing it more frequently recently…

Where the lark sings

Out in the field where the lark it flies,
Over the earth where my heart it lies,
Oh how it sings when the west wind blows,
Out in the field where no-one goes.

-Kate Rusby, ‘The Lark’


After spending the entire day cooped up in a room without windows in Edinburgh, I wasn’t about to waste what was left of the beautiful, long summer evening. Ros and I went for a four-mile walk over the faraway-hill I pointed out in my last Favourite Things photo. It had been ages since I had heard the lark sing. They sing only in wide open fields, where they can fly into the wind and let their flutey song fill the air.

On the train back from Edinburgh, I was again struck by the rolling green fields, the beauty of the blue sky and the blue sea and the green hills in between. I live in such a beautiful place. It is a privilege to live here. I want to drink it in, fill my lungs and my soul with lark song and lush green and the sea.


Look for the clump of trees in the centre of the above middle photograph, on the ridge of the hill — that is where we crossed the hill; the town is on the other side.

And, on the way back, the same view as the photo at the top of this post, only a couple of hours later:

Sea, earth, sky

The past week summer has come to Scotland. Today, Kelly and I walked a portion of the Fife Coastal Path. Five hours, starting at exploring the St Monans Kirk, then hot chocolate at the Cocoa Tree and a peek in St Fillan’s Cave in Pittenweem, lunch at the Wee Chippy in Anstruther, and three miles of stunning coastline from Anstruther to Crail.

The tide was out, so I clambered across rocks to get a closer look at these birds. I’m still not sure what they are… Meanwhile, Kelly supervised:

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My coworker and I both exclaimed in surprise when a bird dropped from the sky. It landed head first right in front of the museum doors. We watched it, at first thinking it was dead, but then it moved. Our doors are automated and open outward, and the bird wasn’t making to go anywhere. As a result, we were worried that the doors would knock it and hurt if further. So I went out a side door, scooped up the bird by sliding a couple of ‘Wet Paint’ signs under it, and carefully transferred it to the bushes. It merely looked up at me, dazed.

I was wondering just now, since I was planning on checking on the bird when I go out for my lunch break — what other animal would do this? Any other large predator would have either killed and eaten the bird or ignored it. Could we say that compassion, not just for fellow members of our species but for other creatures as well, is one of the qualities that separates humankind from simply being another kind of animal?

And if compassion is a quality that defines one as human, how then do we cultivate that quality in our lives?