Monday, June 27, 2022

Melville, Rockwell, Wharton, and Moby Tick

I drove up to the Berkshires in Massachusetts in late May. I had this trip planned for 2020, but then a pandemic happened. Finally in 2022, I felt comfortable enough to stay in a hotel (the Yankee Inn was better that expected—microwave, fridge, and freezer along with a free breakfast) and visit Edith Wharton’s house, The Mount. She has been one of my top favorite fiction writers for decades, and I’ve only recently become interested in her nonfiction on topics such as home decoration, gardens, and travel.

I’ve long been a fan of Wharton’s fiction, especially The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. This fiction inspired in me an interest in the Gilded Age that Wharton chronicles, and I used her quotes and mentions in my multimedia presentation on the Gilded Age, months before HBO’s series began. Tours of The Mount began on May 15, and my spot was reserved for May 16. I already had a ticket for a live interview planned for the 15th at the Mahalwe Theater in Great Barrington (Debbie Millman and Roxanne Gay) and I didn’t want to over-schedule my days. I wanted plenty of time to take notes and journal, and possibly also put down some inspired writing.

Before I set out on my Berkshire journey, I noticed that the hotels listed their proximity to the Norman Rockwell Museum. That would be an interesting excursion and might suggest a future essay, blogpost, or presentation. I booked a tour there, too, for one of me free days in Lenox, Massachusetts. And once I got to Lenox, I noticed there was a house nearby in which Herman Melville lived. I’ll go there, too! I had an interesting thing to do each day, and still plenty of time to relax and write. I was filling my well of ideas.

I drove north to Massachusetts on a Thursday and checked in to the Yankee Inn. I was thrilled with the hotel. It was quiet and my room had a writing nook with a large desk and chair. The posters on the walls were retro ski pictures clueing me in to the fact that this is a popular ski area. (I wouldn’t have known that otherwise, not being a skier.) I settled in and tuned in to a streaming lecture about Ralph Waldo Emerson I had planned. I got hooked on streamed lectures and book talks during the pandemic when various libraries and museums were forced to put their content online. There are still many available, and I attend whenever I can. Being an introvert, I thought this was the best way to spend my first evening in my hotel.

My writing nook

I headed over to the NormanRockwell Museum on Friday.

The Norman Rockwell Museum

 It’s near the charming village of Stockbridge which Rockwell thought was charming, too. He painted a famous Stockbridge portrait of the shops that remain there, still. The museum is a newer construction away from the village. His house is there, and his last studio. For a while he had a studio on the second floor of one of the shops in the famous painting, but moved to his property later on. The studio wasn’t open for visitors yet (maybe Memorial Day), but I could walk all around it and imagine creating art in such a fabulous, tranquil setting complete with pond. There were some nature trails, but I didn’t walk them. I regretted that because what else did I have to do after touring the museum besides going back to the hotel? Maybe I was afraid I would get a tick or something.

Norman Rockwell's Studio

The museum supplied a thorough education on the life and work of Norman Rockwell. Always in museums I pick out my favorite thing or two, and here I chose Home for Christmas (Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas)—read more here:

and the four paintings representing the Four Freedoms:

  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Worship
  • Freedom from Want
  • Freedom from Fear

When FDR spoke about the Four Freedoms as what we are fighting WWII for, Rockwell thought hard about what he could do. He arrived at a solution: he would make paintings about those freedoms so that regular citizens could understand. People might not click with abstract ideas, and were more likely to understand a painting. The four paintings are hung together and I was happy to see postcards of each freedom individually as well as an extra-wide card with all four in the gift shop. Take a look at them here:

Home for Christmas (Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas) was everywhere as well, and I came out of that shop with another extra-wide card of it, a refrigerator magnet, and a cross-stitch kit which when done-up will be extra-wide like the original painting. On my last day in the region, I took myself out for lunch in a Stockbridge cafĂ© located in the central building of that painting, the second floor of which was Norman Rockwell’s studio for a time.

Saturday was devoted to Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, a mere four miles from my hotel. This turned out to be the very location where Melville wrote Moby Dick! I find authors’ houses interesting, but when their actual desk is right there in front of me I’m thrilled. This is where it happened! I’ve seen Pearl S. Buck’s desk and Louisa May Alcott’s and others, and could barely contain myself. My friends heard all about these desks, and now they’ll hear about Melville’s. His is positioned near a window where he could look out and see Mount Greylock which he imagined as the whale!

Melville's writing table with Mount Greylock just beyond those trees

I could imagine someone who had never known high-definition TV convincing himself that the mountain was a whale, sure. He even built a piazza (porch) on that side of the house so that he could sit outside and gaze upon his whale.

The Arrowhead tour before mine had four people on it, and the one after mine had ten. My tour was just me, and I was able to chat with the guide without worrying that I would bore other tourists with my questions. I told her I’m a writer and that I was especially interested in a later work, Billy Budd, for an essay I was starting to write. He didn’t write Billy Budd in this house, she said. He wrote that later on when he house-swapped with his brother and moved back to Manhattan. After his early success with his first few groundbreaking novels, and moderate success with Moby Dick, Melville’s writing career took a nosedive and he couldn’t afford to keep Arrowhead and its property going. So he moved his family to Manhattan where he got a job but kept writing (Billy Budd among other novels), and his brother and family moved into Arrowhead.

Melville's Arrowhead--that's the piazza on the right side

Arrowhead has its own walking trails, and although it was a hot day I decided to walk them. One went into the woods where the trail was well marked but still rather wild. The other marked the boundary of a field, fallow now, but yielded crops in earlier years. All totaled, I walked about three miles in that unseasonal heat, and I was glad for my car’s air conditioning. Back to the hotel I went to ponder my Melville visit and look closely at the books I bought there. I and My Chimney is a short memoir about the central chimney of Arrowhead and how it prevented any remodeling ideas Mrs. Melville presented Herman with. That chimney was central to the house tour, too. While looking at my new books, I noticed a tick on my salmon-colored pants and brought him/her to the bathroom sink drain promptly. Proud of myself for not over-reacting to a dreaded tick, I soon found another, already embedded in my calf. Without tweezers or other amateur surgical instruments, I used Neosporin and my embroidery scissors to extract the bug. In pieces. The following week, back in New Jersey, my doctor told me I had successfully gotten all of the bug but prescribed a course of antibiotics and daily Neosporin on the wound. Back at work in Pennsylvania, a clever colleague named my tick Moby Tick, and that’s what I mostly remember about Herman Melville’s nature trails.

Beware of ticks

Sunday was free until Debbie Millman and Roxanne Gay’s interview at the Mahalwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. I learned of this event from The Mount, Edith Wharton’s House. They provided my pandemic experience with many book talks and lectures, and I’m still on their email list even though most of their offerings are now in-person. I was thrilled to have the chance to attend this interview as both women are important writers. Millman was meant to be the interviewee. She has an award-winning podcast which focuses on design as well as a big book of her best podcast interviews. Gay was to be the interviewer, but as it turned out, their interview was really a conversation. Either way it would have held my interest for hours, and the beautiful Mahalwe Theater was a posh setting. This excursion was the furthest from my hotel at 20 miles, but I got to drive through Stockbridge which I recognized immediately from the Norman Rockwell painting. 

The reason I drove the four hours to Massachusetts is The Mount. This was Edith Wharton’s home from 1902-1911, just after the Gilded Age she chronicled in her stories and up to when she divorced her husband Teddy and moved to France. I listened to her book, The Decoration of Houses during the car ride from New Jersey, and learned a lot of things that I would see on this tour. For example, she loved symmetry. Even if she had to create fake window or doors, she insisted that everything be balanced. She disliked ruffled curtains, but strangely had them in her boudoir, an office connected to her bedroom. This boudoir is where she would sit at a central table to pay bills, talk to staff, and conduct the business of running the estate. She actually wrote in her bed, every morning, like someone else I know.

Edith Wharton's The Mount

The Mount features gardens and trails. After the trauma of the Moby Tick incident, I skipped the trails and focused on the gardens. There are two, the Flower Garden and the Italian Garden. It was early for flowers to be blooming in the former, but there was a center fountain providing visual and aural niceness, and a few pops of color. I remember a few tulips, notable to me since New Jersey is finished with tulips. The Flower Garden and the Italian Garden are connected by the Lime Walk, two rows of Linden trees with a path between. The Italian Garden, as Edith Wharton describes in Italian Villas and Their Gardens, does not feature lots of flowers but instead shrubbery, masonry, and furniture. It’s too hot in most of Italy to grow flowers, so the gardens are really rather outdoor hangouts with few flowers. Having for years tried to grow petunias and begonias at our family’s beach house, I understood this immediately. I’m not there to water typical annuals every day, so the only flowers I can nurture are geraniums and portulaca. I imagine it would be even more difficult in Italy!

Columns in the Italian Garden at The Mount

I toured the house and learned that Edith Wharton loved dogs. She always had a few, and there were dog beds (fancy ones) in odd places in the house. She kept a glass jar of dog biscuits at her place on the dining room table.

Dog biscuits in the dining room

That dining room table was round, by the way, because Edith Wharton liked to be able to see everyone with whom she was eating and promote good conversation. It was set for tour visitors as she would have had it. A recurring theme on this tour is that Wharton did not subscribe to the confined fanciness she wrote about in her Gilded Age novels. She rebelled against it. The house was inviting and welcoming. It seemed comfortable. We saw an actual librarian in the library who was more than happy to say a few words about some treasure in that room. She showed us some books that were signed to Wharton, one by her friend, novelist Henry James. She spent a lot of time and energy on this library, and roughly half of her books came home to stay there. She died many years after The Mount years, in France, and her will stipulated that her books would be divided between two young men. One of those kept his books in a warehouse in which the Wharton books were destroyed, and the books belonging to the other young man found their way back to The Mount. The Mount’s library would be a dream to explore, and the librarian seemed willing to help scholars explore it.

Part of The Mount's Library

All in all, this turned out to be a fantastic solo trip, one I wouldn’t mind repeating since these destinations are so committed to providing special exhibits, lectures, and book talks which are like catnip to me.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

What My Retirement Should Look Like

I often wonder what the next phase of my life will look like. I'm familiar with childhood, teen years/high school, college-into-young-adulthood, marriage, and divorce-hood. Through most of these phases, I worked, worked hard, worked multiple jobs simultaneously, and was loyal to my employers. Retirement looms in front of me now as the next big phase, but it is a ways away (a decade) and I'll have to pay off some debt (I'm looking at you, student loan!) before I get there. What do I want retirement to look like? The following fanciful constellation of jobs has been compiled from positions I've actually seen advertised this spring.

I'll be living at the New Jersey shore, Cape May specifically. That's a given, because that is where my heart is and that is where I feel most at home. The Cape May Light is my icon for this part of the universe, and recently I saw that Cape May MAC, the organization that administers the property, was advertising for Lighthouse Keepers. A dream of mine! These keepers would not have to tend to the light to keep mariners safe because that is automated. These contemporary keepers would not have to lug heavy barrels of oil up the circular wrought iron steps, either. (Have you seen the 2019 movie, The Lighthouse? It wouldn't be like that, I don't think.) These new lighthouse keepers mainly corral the many visitors and tell stories and facts to keep them occupied. One of the previous keepers offered short, illustrated lectures in the Nature Center on weekends. I could do all of this and then go for a two-mile walk in my beloved Cape May Point State Park afterwards. I don't think there's a uniform, but I seem to recall a navy blue polo shirt with the keeper's name and "Lighthouse Keeper" embroidered underneath. I would also want an authentic, retro-looking lighthouse keeper hat.

On a different day of the week, I'd schedule myself to drive over to Wildwood in my black-and-fuschia lady pirate uniform in order to portray the enemy of the Dark Star Pirate Cruise ship. This job would require captaining a small motorized vessel, shooting a powerful but harmless water cannon in the general direction of the tourists, and creating a colorful (and humorous) lady-pirate-villain costume. A pirate hat would be required. From my landlubber desk where I currently write, non of these job requirements seem prohibitive, but in rare moments of introspection I suspect I might feel a twinge of imposter syndrome. I'll snap out of it. My name would be either Lighthouse Lil (combining my first two job personas), or Maritime Margie (to preserve my 'MM' initials). I imagine that on my days of portraying the villain, I would fly big, bright, black-lace-trimmed, fuschia bloomers from the mast instead of, or in addition to, the Lighthouse Lil flag and the skull and crossbones. I will be refreshing my pirate talk fluency. 

The Robert Shackleton Theater

When I'm not guiding tourists up and down the 199 lighthouse steps, or shooting water jets at unsuspecting pirate cruisers, I predict that I will be creating and sewing costumes for one of the classy theater groups in Cape May, Cape May Stage. (I've seen lots of their plays in their little church-turned theater.) They really are, as I write, looking for a Costumer. The job description included other required skills including working with the public and lifting fifty pounds. I can lift fifty pounds, but do I have to then carry it? I can sew. I've made costumes, mostly Halloween and Colonial. Once, whe I took a career aptitude test along with my students, my result was Costumer for Opera. That result seemed outrageously specific, but it has launched me into many a daydream. Have I missed my calling? There is still time.

I will need to generate income during my retirement, and I haven't yet crunched the numbers to see if this trio of gigs will sustain me. I imagine they won't if I want to still buy books and travel. I will have to supplement this income with royalties from my award-winning, best-selling author career which is about to take off with the publication of my collection of grown-up travel essays, Nerd Traveler (published by Read Furiously, July 2021). 

July 6 from Read Furiously!!!

I've been waiting a long time to bust out of the hum-drum, the quotidienne, the quietly anonymous. In retirement, I'll have the opportunity to be a character...or four.

A To-Do List has been created:

Sunday, July 26, 2020

CYANOTYPES: Look at Me Doing Science!

Impression of Ivy

I've been attending quite a few webinars, book talks, and other Zoom offering during this quarantine, and among some eye-catching author talks I found a demonstration of Cyanotypes offered by the Boston Athenaeum. Those are those blue images, like blueprints, right?

Tatiana Cole is the Paper Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum, and she showed her workspace full of tools for fixing old books and paper properly. Among all this, she was set up to make cyanotypes on paper. She painted her paper with a special solution, put an object on top, a piece of picture-frame glass on top of that, and then went up to the roof to let the cyanotype sandwich sit in the sun for about five or ten minutes. When time was up, she removed the glass and the object and there was a distinctive photo image of the object on the paper. As she explained to her audience where we could get our own supplies to make cyanotypes, she mentioned that these could be done on specially-treated fabric, too. That's when some bells went off in my head: I had received, years ago, the very specially-treated fabric she spoke of. I never got around to actually making images because I thought it would be difficult. It isn't.

1. Place item on fabric or paper. 2D objects will be better because 3D will let light underneath.
2. Put the fabric/paper with object on top in the sun for 10-15 minutes. If you have some glass, it might help flatten out any 3D-ness of the objects. I didn't have glass handy, but I'll look harder for some next time.
An assortment of botanical objects from my yard on specially-treated fabric in the bright sun on a wickedly hot day

3. Remove object(s).
4. Rinse fabric/paper until water runs clear. You probably want to wear gloves for this. I forgot. I'm okay.

5. Protect your clothing, too.
6. Dry.
7. Once my fabric was dry I pressed it.

For a first try, I'm happy with my end result. My fabric was three feet by four feet, and I decided since I'd probably be chopping it up anyway and putting it in a quilt, I'd have better luck in the sun if I cut it into strips first. I didn't want to expose half the fabric while I was dithering over placement of my botanical specimen. I have some great images to use in some sort of quilt, but I'll be dithering over how to set them for months, I'm sure. For some reason, some of the leaves and things made better impressions on the wrong side of the fabric. I haven't figured that one out yet. Here are the items I placed on my fabric:
1. holly branch
2. ivy vines--great performers here
3. fig leaf--great impression

4. magnolia pod
5. magnolia leaf--just a big blob
6. Virginia Creeper to which I am highly allergic, but I used my garden scissors as tongs and was VERY careful. I needn't have bothered--it didn't make a great impression.
7. lilac leaves
8. shells (not from my yard but sitting on a counter in the house)
9. portulaca leaves--too tiny
10. geranium leaf
11. vinca vine
12. camellia leaves
13. purslane

14. juniper leaves and tiny berries--this looks kind of great, but would have benefited from a piece of glass to mash it flat. Too much sun got under.
15. mystery tree leaves (I don't know--my father planted a few of these after all our Mimosa trees died.)

That was my experience, and I'm sharing my photos here. If you're interested in seeing some really good cyanotypes, a botanist named Anna Atkins published three volumes of cyanotypes of British algae. You can read about her and see some examples from the UK's Natural History Museum here.  If you're on Facebook, there's a cool site called Alternative Photography which shares some great modern cyanotypes:

If you'd like to acquire your own supplies and make your own cyanotypes, try (fabric) or (paper). Both were recommended by Ms. Cole at the Boston Athenaeum. I had a ball doing mine and felt like a mad scientist. I can't explain why the fabric looks pale blue in the "before" shots, medium blue while it is drying, and grey after it is dry. The medium blue is the most accurate.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Newport, Rhode Island's Cliff Walk: I Did Not Have to be Rescued!

I drove to Newport in order to immerse myself in the Gilded Age. I've been thinking of putting together a presentation or essay about that era sandwiched between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I when new technologies changed the way American humans lived and innovators and businessmen got very, very rich. Many of these rich folk summered in Newport in lavish mansions with many a gold-leafed surface and listened to some interesting music which is what draws me to the era. Mark Twain coined the term Gilded Age with one of his novels, but he didn't mean it as a compliment. He referred to the gilded surfaces of the rich which obscured the reality of the rest of the people, many living in poverty, and not yet benefiting from the new technological advances. There really was gilt, but he was using it as a metaphor.

I visited The Breakers, the most opulent of all the mansions,

The Breakers
 and the number two mansion, Marble House.
Marble House
 Both of these belonged to branches of the Vanderbilt family. That's how I occupied my Saturday.

I saved the Cliff Walk for Sunday morning. I wasn't sure how much of the walk I'd do because I read that some of it was challenging, and as there is no Cliff Walk Aptitude Test I'd have to evaluate in the moment what they meant by "challenging." The popular part of the walk is a sidewalk running along the edges of many of the famous mansions' enormous back lawns with the rough, rocky ocean on the other side. 
The easy part of the Cliff Walk

The Breakers, as seen from the Cliff Walk

breakers with a small 'b'

It's gorgeous, really, and very popular with what seems to be locals and tourists alike. Some of the privately-owned mansions have erected fences to keep Cliff Walkers from gawking at their homes, but most of the rest are visible. There's also a university taking up residency in one of the mansions formerly owned by a titan of industry, now known as Salve Regina University. Their commencement was being held under a huge white tent adjacent to the Cliff Walk on my Sunday morning amble.

The giant commencement tent is further down the walk.
Eventually I got to a spot where the sidewalk ended and there were giant, flattened-out boulders to walk on. These posed no great challenge to me as I grew up walking on boulders like this in Cape May with my dog, Bambi, and my dad. I'm no expert, but I think these were the same kind of rocks Bambi and I walked on.

That's not Bambi; that's a Newport dog with an impressive stick

The boulders linked to more sidewalk, some gravel areas, and more boulders. Every now and then there would be a tunnel going under mansion property or a grandiose fence. It was such a unique and scenic walk! 

One tunnel went under the Chinese Tea House which belongs to Marble House. This tea house was built for Alva Vanderbilt to hold her women's rights meetings, but now refreshments are sold there.

The Chinese Tea House and the tunnel to the left
At some point I saw a sign explaining that the walk from that point would be more challenging. Did this mean "challenging" for my grandmother, or "challenging" for me who has experience walking on flattened boulders with Bambi. I decided to keep going because the place was so gorgeous and different, and because I was hoping to find Lands' End, the mansion once owned by writer Edith Wharton, a great critic of the Gilded Age. The gravel and flat boulders gave way to large, smooth rocks which had no place to put my sneakered feet. These were not Bambi rocks. Soon these boulders required big steps up (or down) which the hiking guys who passed me navigated easily with their longer legs and hiking boots. I am physically unable to step that far up or down. I had to use the sit-and-spin-the-legs-around method. (Luckily for me, there is no video evidence of this.) At times there might have been a chain link fence to hold on to (for dear life) and at times there wasn't. Periodically, I checked my illustrated Cliff Walk guide to get my bearings and remind myself what Edith Wharton's Lands' End looks like.

I considered turning around when I got to Rough Point, a mansion built by Vanderbilts and eventually inherited by Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, who died in 1992. It's now open for tours.

Rough Point
At Rough Point, I was standing atop a boulder contemplating the wisdom of continuing, when one of those long-legged hiking gentlemen happened by and told me I was pretty well into it and might as well keep going. I did, for a little bit, but paused again to consider my situation. How would the U.S. Coast Guard (or Newport police) rescue me if I wiped-out? That would be embarrassing. No matter how far I walked/climbed, I would have to walk back to my car. I should probably turn back. It was then that I looked ahead, about where Lands' End should be according to my book, and there were the white chimneys of Lands' End! (I think.) So I shot them (with my camera):

I started back. At one point I turned around to take in the vista I had just climbed down. Look for the tiny people near the top to get the scale of this (and the magnitude of my accomplishment):

But gosh, it was beautiful! It took me a couple days to recover from this exhilarating walk, but it was worth it! (And I did not have to be rescued.) Later I calculated that I walked/climbed about five miles which is my usual walk in the park, actually, but without boulders...

More tiny humans taking the Cliff Walk challenge!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I Went on a Swamp Tour

I was in New Orleans for a conference and checked off some things on my list that I always wanted to do (Preservation Hall Jazz, the World War II Museum, lunch at Cafe Amelie). Still, I found myself with an unencumbered Sunday afternoon in June, and thought to myself, "I've never seen a Cajun guy feed marshmallows to an alligator in the swamp, so maybe I should do that!" I have a special affinity for Louisianan swamps and Cajuns since that's where my father came from. This would mean I am half Cajun, obviously. (The half that likes spicy food, but not the half that is allergic to shellfish.) My father lived on the bayou not far from where this swamp tour would happen (LaFourche Parish) until he was about eight years old. He mentioned it often: pelicans and egrets, alligators and crawfish, sugar cane and molasses.

Okay, truth be told, I had no idea alligators like to eat marshmallows and that Cajuns like to toss them to alligators, but I found this out on the Swamp Tour. Our guide, Captain Reggie,
narrated a very informative (and fun) tour of the swamp. Bayous, he explained, are naturally-occurring thoroughfares through the swamp while canals are man-made ones. There is marshland in the swamp, too. So, the swamp, as they define it here, is the whole ecosystem which includes bayous, canals, and marshes.

We rode on a flat-bottomed boat almost exactly like the Salt Marsh Safari boat I'm familiar with in Cape May.
My ride
Other visitors were riding on large and small fan boats, but these things are noisy. As Captain Reggie explained, "You wouldn't learn anything."
A smaller fan boat (noisy)

A larger fan boat (noisier)
This swamp is in Jean LaFitte National Historic Park and Preserve, specifically the Barataria Preserve. We saw trees, moss, dragonflies, and yes, ALLIGATORS. Early in the ride we saw a small alligator swimming around by himself, and he came right over to the boat. Captain Reggie explained that alligators don't see the white marshmallows he tosses, but they feel the vibrations when it hits the water. Besides luring the alligators closer to us, those marshmallows allow us to see the reptile chomp down on something not alive (like a tourist).

The first reptile we encountered
We toured through some interesting heat-tolerant flora on our way through the swamp to see even more marshmallow-eating alligators. The stuff hanging from trees is sphagnum moss, and according to Captain Reggie, "Yankees actually buy that stuff." Yes, he's right, once or twice my non-Cajun Yankee side actually bought that stuff for various craft projects. It is used to stuff boat cushions, too.

Sphagnum moss hanging from tree

It looks tropical...
At one point on the tour, we passed a Cajun graveyard. One of Captain Reggie's grandmothers is in there, and he confirmed what I always suspected: when the area floods, the coffins can pop out of the ground and float around. I stopped listening at this point because I have nightmares about my long-dead ancestors floating around in their coffins during catastrophic floods. I started listening again when the Captain told us that the hill in the middle of the cemetery is an ancient Native American burial mound going back to 500AD.

At one point during our tour, Captain Reggie found a breezy spot to stop and give the boat a rest. From out of a closet that none of us had noticed, he brought out his companion, Elvis, a baby alligator. Cool enough to see one up close, but each of us got to hold it. (Kids got to wear Elvis on their heads.) I did hold Elvis, and here follows photographic proof. He squirmed a little, but more interestingly made soft little sounds almost like a dove cooing.

Margaret and Elvis (profile)
Elvis, straight-on
Finally, we saw alligators. I counted seven simultaneously swimming around our boat and grabbing whatever marshmallows they could.

See the marshmallow about to be eaten?
This was a fabulous tour in spite of the June Louisiana heat. Of course it was going to be hot, and I did the best I could dressing comfortably and sipping my water. My big worry had been mosquitoes, so I bought a yellow spiral bracelet which was supposed to form a forcefield around me unpenetrable by mosquitoes who love me. I can't tell you if the bracelet worked, but I can tell you no one else was complaining about mosquitoes.

After I was delivered back to my New Orleans hotel, I Googled Captain Reggie. He said some Disney movie character was named after him, and I was curious about that: Ray in "The Princess and the Frog"? I'm way behind on Disney movies, but I found something even more interesting. Here's Captain Reggie himself (the "Alligator Whisperer") feeding marshmallows to alligators on someone else's tour. You can hear him saying "Ici!" ('here' in French) to the reptiles. Now why didn't I take a video???