Saturday, October 10, 2015

When Nature Calls

It was not my plan to do a post today.  But while sitting on my porch yesterday something caught my attention and deserved to be shared.  It wasn't just what I saw but what I heard (now does the title When Nature Calls make sense?).  After getting a great look in my binoculars, video taping his chirp for auditory reference, and snapping a photo with my cell phone through a window I determined I was hearing and seeing a pair of Downy Woodpeckers.  Oh how I wish I had had my big girl camera. Here is the male in all his blurry glory.  See that little red patch on the back of his head?  Male.

Tiny little guy only 6 inches or so.

Today with my camera I have been waiting for the pair to make another appearance so I can get some better shots.  But this time it was a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers that found their way into the yard.  This is the female.  That's not a red leaf on her head.

The males have red on their necks as well which this one did not.  These woodpeckers are much bigger and easier to spot at 16-19 inches tall with  a 29 inch wing span.

After watching her for a minute she took flight with feet dangling and wings spread.

My woodpecker adventures do not stop here, however.  My day developed a theme. Next up, swooping into the same tree the Pileated Woodpecker was favoring, flew a Yellow-shafted Flicker.  Look at those amazing spots.

And that black mustache stripe told me he was a male.

And the lovely red "V" patch on the nape of his neck is so bright.  They are not as large as the Pileated, but still a good size at 13 inches tall and 20 inch wingspan.

 What next, you ask?  More?  Yes.  A male Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  What a parade!

Stunning color and boy is he loud.  He is medium sized like the Flicker at 10ish inches, but by far the noisiest.

And how did it end?  Right back where it all started.  As I was walking in from shooting, in the same tree I spotted the male in yesterday, was a Downy Woodpecker.  I got my big girl camera shots after all.

This time it was a female with no red patch.

So nature called with its thrumming of a single woodpeckers beak, I listened and was greatly rewarded for my attention with 4 great sightings and photo opportunities.  Now back to what I was planning to do with my day.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Glorious Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation like the Laura Plantation is located on the Mississippi River and is exactly what I picture in my mind when I think "southern plantation."

It's an amazing property with 28 - 300 year old live oaks lining the long walk from the road along the Mississippi River to the front door.

One of the oaks was struck by lightning many years ago and filled with mortar and bricks in an attempt to save the tree.  As you can see the tree has since grown around the bricks.

It seems to be working.

Already I can point out a few of the differences between this plantation and the Laura Plantation.
  • The trees at Oak Alley are 100 years older that at Laura
  • Laura does not have the large Grecian columns supporting its porch and roof
  • Oak Alley is painted with neutral colors unlike the bright Caribbean colors of Laura
  • Laura has a cellar  on the first floor and one floor of living space verses Oak Alley's 2 stories
  • Oak Alley-Greek Revival Architecture, Laura-Creole Style Raised House Architecture

We heard the best story of the day in the parlor during our tour.  Apparently during a period when the house was abandoned, cows broke in and took up residence.  They smashed the stairway and crushed the entire downstairs floor which was made of black marble.  When the home was restored, pieces of the marble were salvaged to make the mantel that now surrounds the fireplace here.

Check out the ceiling medallion in the mirror

Lace hangs in all the windows serving as elegant mosquito netting.

The dining room is very large as is the table.  Perfect for the many gatherings that were hosted by the owners over the years.

More contrasts to point out.
  • Laura served mainly as work house, but Oak Alley was a home
  • Oak Alley's dining room was designed and used for entertaining, but the Laura's was smaller and more for family gatherings when they were there
  • Laura's interior paint was bright and loud, but Oak Alley's was soft and neutral

The upstairs bedrooms are quit large.  See the rolling pin on the bed?  It was used by the house slaves to beat the mattresses every day so they would be lump free for sleeping each night.  The mattresses were stuffed with sterilized spanish moss.

Mirrors are covered when someone dies
  • The moldings at the Laura are simple with clean lines, but Oak Alley's were ornate and complex not just around the doors and windows, but at the ceiling as well
  • The draperies are heavy and formal at Oak Alley and simple lace at the Laura
  • The bedrooms at Oak Alley are very large whereas Laura's were quite small

The Stewarts were the last residents of the home.  Mrs. Stewart lived here until she died in 1972.

Master Bedroom
I could live here.  It's beautiful.

And the view from the upstairs balcony is stunning.

We could not have picked two more perfect plantations to tour.  Each so different from the other in style and history.

And lunch at Oak Alley was delicious!

Three flavors of Mint Julep, Blue Cheese Salad, Bread Pudding, Chocolate Pecan Pie, and Buttermilk Pie to share

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Trip to Creole Country: Laura Plantation

I've been to New Orleans before, but it's been years and we never left the French Quarter.  Now that my son and his wife are living there, Breck and I took the opportunity to visit again.  This time, however, we never came close to the French Quarter and had a completely different experience.  Besides shopping and eating our way down Magazine Street, taking in a Cowboys/Saints football game, and hanging out in a sports bar playing Bocce, we also visited a couple old plantations on the Mississippi river.  They could not have been any different from each other.

The first was a Creole plantation named Laura painted in rich Caribbean colors.

Our guide was wonderful and did a great job laying out the history of the family that ran the plantation with all it's ups and downs.

He explained that the family used the plantation as more of an office than a home spending most of their time in town homes they owned in New Orleans.

They had the largest wine collection in the area

I still find it amazing when I walk in places that have so much history.  These bricks were made by slaves from mud dredged from the the Mississippi river which is only 600 feet or so from the front door.

The Live Oaks out front are 200 years old, planted by the family when they built.

In 2004 a fire burned much of Laura and the charred wood can be seen throughout the home.  restoration took 3 years, but much of the damage was left maintaining its authenticity.

This brick has crumbled to powder as had many that we saw.

Dinning Room
This is part of the house that burned where they left the walls exposed showing the construction underneath the plaster that exists in the other rooms.

Here the floors were rebuilt with pine though the rest of the house is cypress since it is no longer legal to harvest cypress in Louisianna.

After leaving the main house we walked through the gardens of citrus, persimmon, fig, and banana to tour the slaves quarters.

Two families of slaves shared these homes.  Interestingly, many slaves remained on the property after emancipation and continued to work the sugar cane fields.

Wooden bowl and stirring stick
 In fact, many of the homes were lived in until 1977 when the inhabitants were forced to leave and many of the buildings were torn down.  No running water, folks.

Why were they torn down?  Because the owners wanted to sell and thought removing them would make it more marketable.  Luckily some were not destroyed.

There is one other very grand home on the property that was home to one of the women in the family who resided there for 30 plus years.

The photo above represents the home in its heyday.  Time has not been so kind and the building is now in complete decline.  The front porch has long since collapsed and been removed.

Still beautiful, but in a different way now.

I had planned to tell you about both plantations in one post, but once I started I found it was too much to cover.  I'll show you Oak Alley Plantation in my next post, but here is a picture to show you not to expect any similarities.

Oak Alley Plantation