Miami marathon

March 15th, 2007 | Uncategorized

I just finished a two-day visit to Miami Dade College, sponsored by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, during which I talked about Fun Home to a staggering array of classes, from Art to English to Human Growth and Development to The Graphic Novel. Plus the Gay Straight Alliance. And a stopoff at the Broward County Public Library.

The library reading last night was really interesting. It was a small crowd of mostly older gay men who are about the age my dad (the subject of my memoir Fun Home) would be. I’ve been getting kind of burnt out reading from my book over and over to people—it’s increasingly difficult to feel connected to what I’m saying. But reading to these guys last night, it felt very immediate again. The most moving part was meeting a lesbian about my age who’d come with her gay dad.

Here I am with Leidy and Xio Fuentes at the GSA meeting. We had a rousing discussion about Harriet the Spy, among other things.

miami dade college

Tomorrow I fly home to VT. Here’s a movie of a big bird flying around my Miami hotel balcony this afternoon. What kind is it?

49 Responses to “Miami marathon”

  1. sunicarus says:

    “Harriet the Spy” rules!

    Look at it this way, Alison. E.M. Forester wrote about how if we could “Only connect…” Sounds like you experienced that in Miami of all places. Who knew, eh? IMHO, that’s the power of the best literature or art form of any medium, really.

    On another note, hope you have some down time back at your VT stompin’ grounds.

  2. sunicarus says:

    On the bird question…

    Flies like some kind of hawk. That’s a bit vague, eh?

    Any ornithologists or Audubon members out there?

  3. cybercita says:

    i agree, harriet the spy rules. i read my copy so often when i was a kid that it completely shredded. and there was an equally wonderful sequel, the long secret.

  4. Melisende says:

    Alison, that bird is a black vulture. You notice the light color of the rear underside of the wings? That is a characteristic that distinguishes the black from the turkey vulture. Of course, the black vulture also is a bit slimmer and has a much better looking head (black skin) than the turkey vulture (red skin). Both vultures’ heads are bare of feathers, of course. Also, the dihedral of the wings disqualifies it as a hawk, eagle or other large raptor.

    Love your stuff! Write more! Draw more! More, more more!!!

  5. sunicarus says:

    I think this quote sums up the spirit of insatiable curiousity of the posters here.

    “I want to know everything, everything,” screeched Harriet suddenly, lying back and bouncing up and down on the bed. “Everything in the world, everything, everything. I will be a spy and know everything.”
    “It won’t do you a bit of good to know everything if you don’t do anything with it. Now get up, Miss Harriet the Spy, you’re going to sleep now.” And with that Ole Golly marched over and grabbed Harriet by the ear.
    -From Harriet the Spy

  6. Cool! I thought maybe it was a turkey vulture because of its finger-like wingtips. I just looked up black vulture. If you ask me, they both have pretty creepy looking heads.

  7. sunicarus says:

    curiosity…sheesh…moving on…

  8. Ha! Somehow I posted that before I saw sunicarus’ comment. But yes! I want to know everything, including the differences between vulture species.

  9. sunicarus says:

    Ok. Speaking of marathons, typos, and curiosity…looks like my link has fallen off the blog and caused technical difficulties. Apparently, the cyberworld is flat.

  10. Ellen Orleans says:

    I’m an enthusiastic birder, but no expert, so please feel free to chime in or correct…

    My understanding is that turkey vultures and black vultures have bald heads because they feed on carrion (dead animals). The lack of feathers around the head helps protect them from the unhealthy attributes associated with carrion— fleas? bacteria? basic germs?—as those undesirables cannot lodge as easily on bare skin as on feathers while the vulture eats.

    Here’s a fun fact. Magpies (anther carrion eater) is are so named because they eat maggots. However, I’ve also heard that “mag,” a diminutive of Margaret, was a late 18th century term used for a chatterer. So who knows? The second syllable is just an abbreviation of “pied” or mottled.

    More about vultures at

  11. Maggie Jochild says:

    Yep, black vulture, I think more common in the South than your neck of the woods, Alison.

    I’ve read that vultures have “nekkid” heads, i.e., bare of feathers, so they root around in carrion without having maggots lodge between their feathers. Hard to pick ’em off your noggin, doncha know, without an opposable thumb.

  12. Maggie Jochild says:

    How funny, Ellen, we cross-posted much the same thing. Except for your gratuitious swipe at Maggies of all kinds and their propensity for chatter — how can you say such a thing? (wink)

  13. I shudder to think what sort of carrion this bird is feeding on in downtown Miami.

  14. sunicarus says:

    Indeed, Alison. That thought is creepier than their “nekkid”, maggot-proof heads.

  15. xckb13 says:

    Black vultures, like red-tailed hawks (think Pale Male) and coyotes, are one of those species that has adapted extremely well to life alongside people and whose range has expanded right along with areas of human habitation. They’re quite fond of garbage dumps!

    I also hesitate to think to much about what exactly this one was hunting in downtown Miami…maybe it just caught the wrong breeze from somewhere with more tempting pickings. If you’re going to soar for hours without flapping your wings a single time, you can’t be too picky about where you end up.

  16. sunicarus says:

    Somehow I don’t think this black vulture was covered in the documentary, “Winged Migration.” Perhaps there should be a darker, urban version on birds of prey. “If Gorey were a birder”, perhaps?”

  17. xckb13 says:

    Raptors get my vote every time over anything cute or capable of amazing feats of endurance, however inspiring. I’m especially fond of shrikes: (and yes, huge fan of Gorey, and of Belloc’s The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts).

  18. xckb13 says:

    Though shrikes, of course, are not raptors. Just predatory songbirds, which is a great oxymoron.

  19. sunicarus says:

    If only Hitchcock and Gorey were still alive. What a film that would be, eh?

    xckb13~The shrikes are striking. Wonderful oxymoron as well. I wonder what they sound like?

    Maggie Jochild~Note: there is a magpie shrike that is known to be quite “gregarious”. ;o)

  20. xckb13 says:

    You can hear the Northern Shrike at

    Oddly enough, my cat didn’t react to the recording at all. She must know when she’s met her match (she’s enough of a marshmallow to be completely overwhelmed by a bird that means business).

  21. Ellen Orleans says:

    I’m an enthusiastic birder, but no expert, so corrections or additions are welcome…

    My understanding is that turkey vultures and black vultures have bald heads because they feed on carrion (dead animals). The lack of feathers around the head helps protect them from the unhealthy attributes associated with carrion— fleas? bacteria? basic germs?—as those undesirables cannot lodge as easily on bare skin as on feathers while the vulture eats.

    Here’s a fun fact. Magpies (anther carrion eater) is are so named because they eat maggots. However, I’ve also heard that “mag,” a diminutive of Margaret, was a late 18th century term used for a chatterer. So who knows? The second syllable is just an abbreviation of “pied” or mottled.

    More about vultures at

  22. Ellen Orleans says:

    Sorry, weird double-post. My mistake.

  23. Maggie Jochild says:

    Well I’ll be danged. Didn’t know until going to the link above that the shrike is the same as a butcherbird. When I was a kid living (for a bit) in far South Texas, nearly to Mejico, my little brother and I found a prickly pear studded with beetles and other bugs, including one smallish tarantula, impaled on large barbs. We ran home to tell Mama, convinced some monstrous boy had been torturing things in the wild. She explained to us that this was a butcherbird’s larder. Must not have been a Northern Shrike, though, not at that locale.

    I remember a hilarious James Thurber short story involving shrikes. Maybe more than one — it’s an entertaining word.

    And — here’s another job I’d like to have, when I clone myself: writing the phonetic descriptions of bird-call for ornithology texts. Must be as much fun to come up with those syllables as it is to read them out loud. “Rapid rasping ‘aak…aak’ and a sharp metallic ‘beek'” is apparently the same as “shrike here” or maybe “you lookin’ at ME?”

  24. LM says:

    Maggie J.

    South Texas would be home to another species, the Loggerhead Shrike.

  25. sunicarus says:

    Maggie Jochild: You’ve woven a wonderful tale once again. Thank you. I’m afraid, however, I have to hang up my hat and hit the sack. Good night or goodmorning.
    eckb13~Thanks for the links and conversation. Bon nuit.

  26. xckb13 says:

    I had a birding instructor in college who was very concerned about warning us not to assign a specific melody or phrase to a bird’s song, since while you’re wandering around in the woods warbling “hey sweetie, hey sweetie, hey sweetie” under your breath, the birds will have long since left for somewhere with better scenery than you and your binoculars.

    I usually describe birdsongs with a kind of primative plainsong notation to help me get a grip on the rise and fall of the melody. That said, I am a terrible birder by ear, but I would prefer to blame that on living in a big city…

  27. cyd says:

    Back to the vulture ID, I’m pretty sure it is a turkey vulture, not a black vulture. TV’s fly with their wings in a V but BV’s don’t. BV’s have white wingtips while TV’s are the ones with the silvery gray on the underside trailing edge of the wing. TV’s are a little less social and I almost never see BV’s alone. Though they both like run in crowds around here, where there’s apparently plenty of roadkill to go around.

    Sorry to be pedantic. I love it when Allison shows us the wildlife she notices and there’s a big discussion.

  28. Maggie Jochild says:

    Okay, Cyd, just call me a flip-flopper. (Or open to change.) I watched the video several times, and I can’t see any color on wingtips or the head, but the dihedral wing formation IS pronounced when you pause at certain points. Good eye, girl!

    The Wikipedia article on them proved to be the most helpful to me. I especially liked the parts about ethyl mercaptan, the vomiting defense, and this line: A group of vultures is typically called a “venue,” while vultures circling in the air are a “kettle.”

  29. MrAtoz says:

    Vote #3 for Turkey Vulture, not Black Vulture.

    We get both kinds here in NJ, and I’ve gotten better at telling them apart. The head color isn’t reliable, since young Turkey Vultures have black heads (they change to red as they mature, which no doubt causes them much teenage angst, so don’t make a big deal about it, OK?). Two better signs: The white on a Turkey V’s wings covers the entire trailing side of the wing from body to tip, whereas the white on the Black V’s is just the tip (like it dipped it in paint). Hard to see this on the video, but towards the end it looks like a Turkey V’s pattern to me. The other sign is the tail — Black V’s have shorter, stubbier tails. Again, hard to see in the video, but what I can see says “Turkey Vulture” to me.

    Thanks to Maggie for the terminology info. A ‘venue’ has taken to roosting in the various tall spruces in my neighborhood, including the one in my next-door neighbor’s yard. It was pretty startling the other day to go out to fill the bird feeder and hear this WHOOOOOSH, WHOOOSH as those guys took off so close by!

    MrAtoz (gladly contributing to yet another nerdy discussion)

  30. jmc says:

    There’s been a pair of Cooper’s Hawks in my semi-urban neighborhood all winter, periodically landing on my back fence. This morning was the first time I’ve seen both of ’em at the same time; they seemed to be working on a nest.

    It’s been amazing to watch them, but I also feel protective of all the sweet juncos and other little birds that come to my feeder.

  31. Doctor E says:

    When those big carrion-eaters take off, they usually drop 10-15 feet before those gigantic wings catch enough air to lift them. If they’re perched only 30 feet or so up, and you’re standing under them when they decide to do this, it can be a panic-inducing experience!

  32. Silvio Soprani says:

    Golly! You folks know “Everything…Everything!”
    And on this blog it does not seem to be particularly a problem whether we “do anything with it…”

    I was just graduating from college when HARRIET THE SPY appeared on the scene. (My advanced age at the time did not stop me from being crazy about her!)

  33. little gator says:

    About birdsong id-I think it’s useful IF you have already heard it. A redwinged blackbird’s song is indescribable but unmistakable. And a black capped chickadee(my state bird) absolutely says FEE-bee when calling for a mate and chickadeedeedee or deedeedee or even chickachickadeedeedeedee the rest of the time.

  34. Deb says:

    Hmmmmmmmm, the first thought I had when looking at the bird video was that it was a physical being, but spiritually, someone came to visit and say hello.

    That was my very first impression and it was quite strong. When I saw it, the video gave me goosebumps watching it fly towards you and then bank away……very graceful. Very special.

    Just my impression.

  35. emfole says:

    hello, what a cute photo!! (and cute grrrls)

  36. geogeek says:

    In a very cool co-incidence, I was listening to CBC Radio 2 this morning, and their late morning classical music theme was “Birds in music” and the host played a whole bunch of interesting peices where birds were (1) in the title or (2) imitated by various instruments/voices or (3) recorded and played as part of the musical piece itself. If anyone’s interested CBC might have on-line archives. The sonogram of course revolutionized notation of birdsong, but I can’t read them at all. My father took me birdwatching many times as a kid, and I recall a time when he checked out records of birdsongs and played them while he worked around the house to learn all the obscure birds you can’t see…

    I re-read parts of “FUn Home” over the past few days and am having wierd father/daughter angst, though the specifics of my relationshsip are very unlike those in “Fun Home.” It’s a fraught relationship, all right. Have also been paying more attention to interactions with her mother. One fun fact: all of my fights about wearing girl clothes (or just neat and tidy clothes) were with my mother, but I totally identify with the shared intellectual passion between father and daughter – I lived that scene where Alison’s on the dorm phone with her father telling her all about English stuff, except the content was science geek stuff.

  37. Maggie Jochild says:

    i fucking love this thread. so much to think about.

    deb, what an idea you proposed. once, at a critical point in my — path, i guess i’d day, i went camping at a spot that was sacred to me, and on a warm november day sitting on rocks by a river, looked into the air behind me and discovered a “kettle” of literally hundreds of turkey vultures, slowly spiraling in two different directions. went on for an hour, and i was spooked. when i got back to camp, my companion (hindu) told me it was a sign. i blew her off, and refused to think about the little notion that niggled into my brain at her comment. five years later, the same issue hit me like a train wreck.

    or maybe it’s just my gift for narrative, i never know.

    reading the phonetic description of the difference between the common poorwill, whip-poor-will and chuck-will’s-widow allowed me to finally hear and distinguish each of them, over the course of a year, at daybreak outside of town here.

  38. Anne Hartman says:

    definitely a turkey vulture.

  39. little gator says:

    Looks like a turkey vulture to me too, but it would, cause that’s the only kind of vulture I’ve seen in flight.

    Did you know vultures won’t eat Lucky Charms cereal? I was at a zoo as a kid and someone had left some of it in the vultures’ cage. Imagine something so bad even vultures refuse it!

    Another time I was hiking up Mt Wachuset, the kind of hill that only gets called a mountain in the lowlands. A beautiful April day with the mountain laurel blooming and everything alive and green.

    Then I saw the tuerkey vultures overhead. Ruined the mood, though we did get giggly at the vultures’ opinion of our hiking skills.

  40. little gator says:

    Another raptor closeup story-I saw a Coopie(Cooper’s Hawk) flying across my yard less than 10 feet from the ground, with a chipmunk wiggling in its feet. It was near the unmortared stone retaining wall that we call the chipmunk condo.

    I feel a loss less friendliness to cute vermin since the chipmunks ate parts of the insides of the car, and the squirrel got stuck in the basement and ate parts of the walls, while pooping everywhere and dislodging insulation.

    The mice were at the old house. They lived in the electric stove(very stinky) and would climb out the burner holes at night. Then Rudy Patootie, best cat ever, would lie in wait and send all the cooking pots clanging to the floor as he pounced. One time he woke a sleeping Mr Gator by trying to drop a live mouse on his face. Poor guy did not appreciate the gift.

  41. Doctor E says:

    We may all be too old for this, but can anyone tell me the meaning of the sign the girl on our left is flashing?

  42. ? says:

    I believe that is a peace sign…slightly tilted…or something…although it resembles scissors after a second look.

  43. jactitation says:

    You’ve got two adorable girls hanging onto you and everyone’s talking about the vulture

  44. jactitation says:

    (please note that last word should have been followed by “?!?!?!”)

  45. tokoloshgrrl says:

    Hey, on the topic of vultures, I read recently that there has been a huge decline in their population in Asia due to environmental contamination. Here’s a link to a very interesting article on how they identified the cause. And my favorite part is that some conservationists have been setting up vulture restaurants! I.e places where vultures can get clean and safe carrion. Yum!

  46. genevieve says:

    Harriet the Spy rules. I read that book a zillion times when I was a kid, several times so far as an adult. When my 1st niece was born, I immediately bought her a copy of HTS for later – because you never know how soon a girl is going to need it.

  47. D.F. says:

    maggie, you’re hilarious. here’s lookin’ at you, kid (now why didn’t my birds ever say that to me?)

    um… can any say ‘hotties?!’ damn! not sure who was more honored in this pic, the guests or the lit celeb.

    miami, huh?

    what *kind* of marathon, AB?

    ok, i’m just kidding.

    but Fla. is now finally on my list of places to hit up.

    the sign she’s throwing – it’s somethin’ all the hip girls in japan were doin’, and then spread from there. i don’t think it’s a peace reference.

    i never read harriet the spy.

    that i remember, at least.

    will check it out.


  48. Timoty says:

    cool blog!