Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Human interactions throw me

Posted in "North Carolina", NC, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 26, 2014

I noticed, as I drove into the muddy parking lot, a gray-bearded man on a motorbike, blocking my way.  But I was in no hurry. I had two hours free.

And so I sat patiently, confident he would notice me soon and move over.  And he did.

I parked and wended my way over mudpuddles and into the NC Botanical Gardens of Chapel Hill.

While standing at the entrance, looking at the familiar table of cut stems in bottles identifying What’s Blooming,  I heard a voice behind me asking,  Do you know what this is?

A man with approximately half a century’s experience on this earth, with longish gray beard, longish gray hair, wearing a cap with earmuffs, held out a stem of white wildflowers.  No, I told him,  I don’t.  I recognized the man I’d seen on the motorbike.

It’s the most common plant around here, he said. You must know!

Seeing none, other than the stem in his hand, I was tempted to ask whether he is quite sure it’s the most common plant around here, but instead I asked whether it might be a kind of aster.

You don’t know? he said. You don’t see! That’s the problem, you don’t see!

Yes, I agreed, we often don’t see what’s around us.

No, he said, you, you don’t see!   I see it everywhere.  It’s the most common plant here in the area, and you haven’t even seen it!

I looked around.  Is it here, in the garden?

He didn’t know, and asked me had I been here before. Yes, I told him,  I come here every year.

Then you should know whether it’s here or not.  Does this botanical garden have trees? he asked.

Stifling the impulse to give the obvious answer (look around) I said that I guess the garden has native trees in it.

What’s that ring, the ring around your neck? he asked.

Oh — it’s something that works rather like a sun dial. It tells the time, but only, I think, if the sun is shining.

How does it work?

I’ll have to remember … See these markings? You turn this dial, line it up with the month and the day and … let’s see … and the sun …

You don’t use it to tell time? he asked.


How long have you been wearing this?

Well, an hour, today, but I’ve had it several years.

And you haven’t learned how to use it yet?

I did know — I have to remember …

Do you have memory problems?

Well, I have to look at it again — I’ll remember …

You won’t.  You’re hopeless.  Here put it over my head — I’ll take better care of it than you will.

No.  No –It was a timepiece, my son gave me this, you can tell the time of day … someone, I forget, historically, it’s a replica of …

Do you have memory problems? Copernicus?

No, I said, not that long ago. It’s a replica of a timepiece used by …


I’m trying to remember —

You won’t remember. You’re hopeless. You don’t even see the flowers around you.

It was Eleanor Of Aquitaine — she gave it to Henry, so they could meet …

Give it to me.


You don’t need that — you don’t even know how to use it.  Slip it over my head …

No, I won’t.  See the building there, you can just see the roof from here — there may be someone in there who can tell you what this flower is.

Do you think they’ll know? he asked. It is THE most common plant in this area.  And it’s blooming all over the place. It’s tall, it’s more than six feet tall, and it’s blooming, and you don’t see it!

Are you walking this way? Let’s go and see if someone in there can identify it.

Wait, he said. I want to see these on the table — maybe it’s here.

ok — I’ll walk ahead.

And then I walked on, as he examined the bottled stems. I walked toward the areas most likely to have people, but it was a chilly, misty, breezy day, and few visitors were about.

A few minutes later, I looked toward the building I had directed him to, and I saw him carrying his white wildflower through the open archway.

I turned and walked out the entrance, never actually getting into the gardens. I walked back to my car, wondering what I will do for the next two hours.

I turned north onto NC 501. A shopping center ahead. I pulled into Southern Seasons, parked, walked inside, picked up a shopping cart and walked aimlessly through the aisles. I looked at all the bright shiny teapots, the cutlery and coffee pots, candles, candy, cork screws and cheese boards, and realized — remembered? — that there is nothing here that I want.

Human interactions throw me.

As I drove back to the hotel, I began to have thoughts — hopes? — that maybe I’d see him again. And maybe, with a second chance, maybe I’d get it right next time.



Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on February 9, 2014

Just back from our annual winter in the Hamptons.    Hampton Hotels, that is.


… a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the
     — Whitman


I didn’t find this one in my Audubon app

Winston-Salem to Savannah, where we stayed in East Bay Street Hotels for several days going south, and again coming back up north.  From Savannah, we drive down to St. Augustine, where we never tire of visiting the Castillo de San Marcos,  built when Florida was still part of the Spanish Empire.

St. Augustine is a  paradise for bird watchers, even for someone like me who can seldom identify the birds I’m watching.  I do think birds — and plants, flowers, trees — should wear nametags.

I believe what I have below, flying over the water,  is an egret.


But this one to the bottom right, I can’t identify.   Possibly a wood stork?



What is a B&B? A Hotel?

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on February 8, 2014

We used to stay at B&Bs when we travel, and we loved staying in the homes of locals. Having access to the back yard, and their books if they had an open library, and eating breakfast at the table with other guests if there were any, or at least of the home-owner/proprietor if it was a small house.

Over the years we’ve stayed with an Amish family in Pennsylvania and a Shakespeare scholar in

Virginia. We’ve stayed in a house that was a replica of Anne Hathaway’s cottage, including the garden, in homes of farmers and writers, and once a weaver, and always, the proprietor lived in the home.

Until recently.

For the last few years we’ve enjoyed winter travels to Savannah, and then on down to St. Augustine.

In St. Augustine, we learned that a B&B is usually an old house (not home) in the historic district – owned by a person or a corporation who hires a staff to come in and prepare breakfast, and a cleaning staff to come in around noon, but no one actually lives in the house.

Which means that, if you go up the stairs to the ice maker and you happen to fall down the stairs carrying that bucket of ice, then you are alone in a house in an unfamiliar city. (Yep, this happened to us; my husband, age 80, fell down the stairs. Both of us huddled together at the bottom of the stairs until we were sure he was not hurt, and then we cleaned up the ice.)

Since that incident, we decided to stick to hotels – knowing staff will always be there. I always ask for a room on the highest floor, a room with a view.

Which brings us to Savannah.

We recently returned from our winter trip to West Palm Beach. We usually spend two nights in Savannah, two in St. Augustine, five in West Palm Beach, and then repeat heading north. On our return trip a week ago, I’m in our room in the Hampton Inn, looking for a room in Savannah for the same night, but I waited too late. The familiar hotels on East Bay Street were booked.

If you’re visiting Savannah, you definitely want to stay on East Bay Street.

Browsing on the web, I stumbled across East Bay Street Inn, self-identified as a B&B.

Take advantage of fantastic Savannah bed and breakfast specials from The East Bay Inn.

Well, the location was right. I called.

Q: Are you a hotel, or a B&B?

A: We’re a B&B.

Q: You’re there all night, someone is there all night?

A: Yes.

We booked. Turns out it has all the features of a hotel – large front desk, a nice doorman who greeted us and brought our bags in, breakfast served not on premises proper but in restaurant which is in the same building. I guess I’ve lost the distinction between a hotel and a B&B.

One thing that I found slightly offensive: An envelope asking for a tip for the cleaning staff.


Bob is waving to me from the top of the lighthouse in St. Augustine

Bob and I always (or virtually always) leave a $5 in the room for the cleaning staff each morning when we leave the hotel. (At least, ever since we read, many years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting By in America.) But somehow, it seems to me that asking for a tip changes the character of what a tip is supposed to be. We did put our $5 in the envelope, but it just didn’t seem quite the same. Is this becoming the norm?

Our trip was too soon over. Stay tuned, and I’ll show you some of the birds we “shot” along the way. And the bridge we walked from island to mainland and back. It’s a just-over-one-mile bridge, but the 3-mile walk took us more than an hour because we stopped for so many good views. (Three miles because we had to walk to the bridge and back as well as over it.)

And the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Bob walked up the 216 steps. (Sign said it’s the equivalent of a 14-story building.) I did not walk all the way up, but we both walked for miles the same day at the Alligator Farm.

But I guess that’s for the next post.

And I see now that we got out of Savannah just in time!

… a towering column of black smoke could be seen from miles away and prompted police to urge nearby hotels and college buildings to evacuate

We talked about staying a day longer, but decided against it.

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