Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bicycles, damp air and moonlight

Not every day is created equal. Usually I'm very "OK" with that, as I enjoy mixing things up. Routines are my friend, monotony is not. Unfortunately, today was a day full of difficulties and challenges to overcome.

With all the drama going on, there wasn't time to fit in some exercise I had been counting on. My first free time didn't really appear til late in the day, it was almost night actually, well past sunset. I decided to go for a bike ride. I pulled on some shorts & a tank along with some sneakers, and off I went. I pedaled at a good pace, there were no cars, no runners or walkers, nothing out there really. The air was cool and damp, and it was getting really dark fast. I pedaled on for about another mile, and came upon a beautiful doe, but did not notice her til I was almost upon her. We both were startled, but she forgave me quickly as she simply went back to her grazing. Around a bend, the brush opens up on the ocean side of the road. Right there was the moon just hanging in the sky, one day away from being full. At that moment, the air became full of fragrance, it was over whelming, I think it was sea lavender which grows all along that end of the Refuge, which is blooming now. I couldn't really figure for sure what was the cause of such a wonderful assault on my senses, but that's probably what it was. I paused just for a moment to soak this in... the moon, the damp air, the fragrance... and then I pedaled on. In complete darkness I arrived at the north end of the street, and literally crossed paths with someone going the other way on his bike. In the dark, we didn't know who we were passing, but of course down here its friendly, so as we passed in the dark saying hello, we realized who we were (neighbors), laughed, and rode the way back together.

We passed the spot with the scented air and both agreed its almost magical. The moon was our escort back to our houses, it guided us to safety providing just enough light over the mangroves for us to see and be seen. No matter though, not a single car passed us, not a single runner or walker, nor any more deer. After I parked my bike, I walked out to the beach to thank the moon for lighting my way back.

As I walked into my home, I realized how happy and uplifted I was feeling. This surprised me considering today was full of things I would rather not have dealt with. It ends in a beautiful and positive way, and I feel ready to face tomorrow. I'm here, I'm ready, so bring it on.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Crawl

Yup, you read the header right.... we've had our first turtle crawl. A loggerhead. It's what is called a "false crawl." This is when a turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs, but for some reason does not lay her eggs. False crawls happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the turtle is disturbed, so she abandons the effort. Sometimes, the turtle encounters an obstruction on the beach (furniture, trees, debris), so she abandons the effort. Sometimes, the turtle will have an obstruction inside, and cannot physically lay the eggs. Whatever the reason, this was a false crawl. She will come ashore again, and it will be in the same general location, as turtles mostly return to the very same beach where they were born to lay their eggs. Amazing.

Nature is a mystery to me, a fascinating mystery. I am walking assigned beach territory daily for nests, lots of us are. We're looking for nests of reptiles that are almost prehistoric, yet we know virtually nothing about them, comparatively speaking. We know they are out there, we see them. People have hunted them for eons, eaten them, taken them for decorative purposes... trophies so to speak. Made hair combs out of their shells, made soup with them, yet until recently no one really gave much thought about their place in the eco-system, and their importance.

Sea turtles are a bellwether species. A recent (first ever) global study of the impacts of bycatch on turtles shows a worldwide crisis unfolding because of poor management of global fisheries. Millions of sea turtles have become the unintended victims of a failure to properly manage the worlds' fisheries, with more and more of their habitats clogged with hooks and nets.

The ocean is vast, but so is mankind's reach.

Those of us all over the world making daily walks looking for turtle tracks focus on the positive. We have to. Looking at the negative, I think I might not want to get out of bed tomorrow. But, we cannot "go there." There are turtles coming ashore, no matter what. For this moment, just a blip in the Universe, I want to do what I can to make a difference and help sea turtles survive. Even now, as I write, somewhere in the world a sea turtle is hauling out of the ocean to nest. Under the starry sky, with a near full moon, just as it was millions of years ago, just as it should be now.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Turtle Time!

Its turtle time here in the Keys! We've gone through our annual training, and have begun the daily walks on the beaches in search of turtle nests. So far, no nests.

Last year, the beaches we patrolled had quite a few nests. The year before, there were some nests, but 4 tropical storms in the span of approximately 3 weeks brought in a lot of debris (a huge amount actually). The nests that hadn't hatched yet were destroyed. It's still early in turtle season, and not surprising that no nests have been located on the beaches we patrol. There are more volunteers than ever to patrol our nearby beaches, which is just wonderful! In fact, this year, there was enough coverage that 1 additional beach that hadn't been previously monitored can be walked daily.

Volunteers get up early, and walk an assigned beach. We look for turtle tracks. Keys beaches can be challenging at times to see tracks. Its not like up on the mainland where there's huge swaths of sand, and nothing on it, but tracks. Nope, not like that down here. Instead, our island beaches are made of oolite (look it up). So there's broken up rocks (oolite) all over the place, covered by sand. On top of the sand, there's the wrack line, which depending on winds and tides can be vast. Mixed into that we've got broken lobster traps, natural debris like sponges & shells, trash (that's a whole topic itself) and lots of other flotsam. We've got a great bunch of volunteers associated with Save-A-Turtle of the Florida Keys. The beach coordinator on my stretch is none other than my better half. He's perfect for the job, since he is very detail oriented. Once a volunteer finds a nest, we sketch it out (where the turtle came up, where she dug her hole, where she went back to sea), measure & mark it, then call the beach coordinator. The coordinator travels to the nest location, verifies the nest, and marks the spot with a GPS. This actually is done even with a "false crawl" which is when a turtle crawls ashore, but does not lay eggs for whatever reason. The coordinator also does the calculation for the nest as far as projecting the hatch dates.

Measuring the nest is important, as is noting the type of tracks. This is how you figure out what type of turtle made the nest. Different sizes & types for different turtles.

I walked my beach this morning, about 1 mile. We're having very high tides right now (I'm sure there's a scientific reason for it, I have no idea why), so the going was not the easiest. I climbed past sea walls, over dunes, and through deep wrack. I collected about 65 yards of trap line and a bag of trash. Trap line is one of the worst things for sea turtles.... their flippers only go forward, cannot swim backwards. So, if they get tangled in line, with every stroke forward, it tightens more and more, until the flipper dies, or the animal dies. If you ever see trap line on a beach somewhere, pick it up and dispose of it. Its devastating to marine life.

So, tomorrow I will walk my beach again, looking for turtle tracks. Until I became involved with Save-A-Turtle, I never really understood how powerful the emotions are when working with turtles. There is something about them I cannot explain, but it rocks you to the core.

I'm so excited to be involved with the turtles again this year. The prospect of another year of abundant nests is so thrilling. As turtle season marches on, I hope you will enjoy learning about them, their nesting habits, and the challenges they face as much as I will enjoy writing about my volunteer experiences. In the meantime, if you want to check out some cool turtle rescuers, go to Heroes for sure.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blue Angels 2

Several days have gone by since we attended the Key West Air Spectacular. Its what I want to write about. I cannot seem to find proper words to do justice.

We went to the show. Once on base, we saw there were quite a few planes on display. WW II fighters, rescue helicopters, many military planes, just lots of cool stuff and cool pilots. We staked our territory with beach chairs and sunblock, then went to explore. What can I say, I was drawn to the Blue Angel fighter planes lined up on the tarmac behind a fence. Gleaming in the sun; beautiful blue and gold. I approached the fencing and got goose bumps. These planes represent so much. I would be lying if I said I wasn't overcome with emotion and patriotic pride.

I began taking photographs, then walked the grounds. I'm enjoying the exhibits and conversation with other pilots. Then, I saw him.... my first Blue Angel pilot! He's out among the crowd chatting, laughing and signing autographs. Wow! I'm practically running to get on line. As my turn to meet the pilot creeps closer, I'm growing more nervous. Now its my turn, and I'm struck dumb. I thank the Lieutenant for his service and dedication. I tell him how much I'm looking forward to the show. He signs my program, and I notice his shoes. They are so high polished, there is a reflection off them. A comment is made about the shoes, he laughs and says that's how he spends his day off.

I've just met a rock star.

I go back to my staked off territory. I'm clutching my program as if my life depends on it. The show is going on all around us, all day long. There are many stunt pilots. Even simply watching is not for the faint of heart. I'm still staring at my first Blue Angel's autograph, studying my program, memorizing names, and counting the hours to the main event.

Its so very hot. We're on the air field. Its concrete. There is no shade. Several hours have passed since we arrived. The crowd is now very large. Its approaching time for the Angels to take to the air.

We see navy personnel begin working near the fighter planes. Excitement is mounting, the Angels are scheduled to fly at 3:30. Finally, a row of vans comes out, its them, the pilots. The crowd goes nuts. We've been watching the other events all day, just baking in the sun. You cannot blame us if we start acting a little crazy.

Cut to the chase. They fire up. Its loud. I've got chills. I've waited decades for this. Rock music is blaring from the large speakers through the base (kudos to whoever made the selections... Van Halen and AC/DC... its an "80's" girls dream!) The pilots salute the navy personnel on the ground. They salute each other. They taxi to take off. Then, they're in the air. They are like rockets. They sound like rockets. They fly straight up like rockets. They fly so high, we lose sight of them against the sun within seconds. They dive down, and do a "fly by" past the crowd at about 450 mph. Its official, we have all now collectively lost our minds. Cameras clicking away. It doesn't matter though, they fly so fast, about 10,000 shots of blue sky were taken at the same instant.

These 6 planes fly as if there is 1 pilot only. Sometimes they are flying 18 inches apart, at close to 500 mph. They fly approaching one another at closing speeds of 1000 mph. I stand there, mouth gaping for 1 hour and 15 minutes as they climb, dive, roll, tumble, and turn putting on a show which is better than anything I could dream.

Its so much to take in. My sense of reason (and hearing) are being put to the test. Useful tip: when they give you those ear plugs, use them.

Among the many gifts a Blue Angels show provides is the gift of unification. The whole time those pilots were in the air, all of us shared pride for our military and country, as well as simple childlike wonder. I struggle to describe this event. I understand why the Blue Angels are such an important recruiting tool. There's no way you walk away from that display thinking that being a Blue Angel is anything except just about THE coolest job in the world.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blue Angels

This is a big weekend for us in the Keys. NAS Key West is hosting the Blue Angels for a weekend air show. So many of us are excited about this, you can almost feel the electricity in the air. Everyone is talking about the event all through the Keys. Just about mid-morning yesterday and today, I was treated to several glorious sonic booms, the house even shook a little. I knew the Angels were up in the air practicing their timing. I heard an interview on the local radio this week with one of the pilots. He said they do not rely on GPS or anything, essentially this is all done by visual. I wonder, what must it be like to be the best of the best? If I'm not too nervous, I may even ask an Angel that question.

I remember when I was about 6 years old, my dad took my big brother to see the Blue Angels somewhere in Pennsylvania. There is a picture of my brother at that show, one which I conjure up often when I think of him. He's on the tarmac, an airplane behind him with a HUGE smile on his face. Sheer joy.

The Angels are good will ambassadors. They also enhance Navy recruiting. Probably, like many other youths, my big brother had some dreams inspired by those Angels. I know for sure he cultivated a life long passion for flying (albeit a far too short life for my liking).

The Angels are heroes to many. I do not have many heroes these days, but I sure do include myself on the list of admirers. They are the kind of people I can look up to; willing to lay their lives on the line for our country, with generosity in their hearts. Serving with pride, dedication, and commitment for the United States of America. These are who we should be looking up to, not some half-baked sports figure or celebrity.

I've never gotten to see the Angels. I know there are people out there who will not be completely happy about their appearance down here, they may even have legitimate complaints somewhere in the mix. Don't bring them to me though! We're getting up super early, and making the trip down to the Navy base. I'm packing my camera, flip flops, sunscreen, some snacks (um, vegan food doesn't look to be overly abundant at the show, too bad) and getting there before the doors open. We're not leaving til the fat lady sings.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What I Found on the Street Today

It is interesting living here. There is life everywhere. Now, granted there is life everywhere else too, maybe I just didn't notice it as much as I do here. But, I think I really have a valid argument that there IS more stuff constantly moving around here than other places.

Today while on the street, life I encountered of the non-human variety included a snake, multiple Key deer, a box turtle, iguanas, 2 dogs, a few anoles, too many birds to count (but osprey, egrets, woodpeckers, and doves I know for sure!), dragonflies, butterflies, stuff in the scrub I could hear but not see, and, of course, Peri. That's a lot of "stuff."

I admit I am not a nature girl. I would be the first person out of the woods screaming "SNAKE" at the top of my lungs, or screaming "a beeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" as I ran across the yard arms flailing and doing ridiculous movements. But being here for a while now, I am finding a way to live with the life that is all around me and not be afraid, but rather in awe.

I moved here in the summer time. The height of "things that constantly move" in the Keys. It was quite a period of adjustment. More like me constantly freaking out. I swear there is some weird stuff down here. Tell me, have YOU ever seen a foot long centipede?? Seriously, those things can devour a gecko. First one of them I saw I about packed my bags and went back to where I "belonged" which was anywhere but here with foot long centipedes.

Well, back to today. Instead of freak outs of past days, today I was really looking at the life around me with true appreciation and wonder. I have a lot more questions about all the nature down here than I'll ever have answers for, but what I found on the street today was peace.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Good Doctor

Marathon Veterinary Hospital. Those words are music to my ears.

Aggie had an emergency today. Shortly after 10am, my other half noticed a lump on her flank. Together we attempted to inspect it. She wouldn't let us. She was in pain. It looked like an abscess.

Within seconds I'm on the phone with our vet, Marathon Veterinary Hospital. I'm panicked. I am afraid the abscess will rupture. I'm told they are absolutely full, and the earliest I can get in is 5pm. No, I'm almost crying, something is horribly wrong, its urgent, "PLEASE HELP HER!" I'm put on hold, within 1 minute, I'm being told come in. I can drop her off, and they will see her in between appointments earlier than 5pm.

Today is a "Pop Day" I'm taking him to the Club... its in Marathon 10 minutes south of MVH. Aggie is being tenderly placed in a carrier, as I'm searching for some catnip to keep her calmer on the ride. Aggie and I rush off to Pop's, get situated, and then we're off to Marathon in less than 5 minutes. After dropping Pop off, I'm on the way to the vet. I arrive just about 1 hour from when I first called. I am greeted by several caring, concerned faces who work there, and told "Dr. Gerri will see Aggie in between patients." I'm also told to stick around Marathon, not to venture far. I say "I'd rather just wait right here, I'm in no rush, I will stay all day if necessary." With that, Dr. Gerri comes out to help another patient, sees me and says "stay, don't leave, I will see Aggie very soon."

In less than 5 minutes, Aggie is being triaged, and within 10 more minutes, Dr. Gerri is in the room with us. She examines her and explains to me exactly what her suspicions are. She says "she should get some blood work," and further explains why. She takes the time to make sure I am aware and understand. I agree to the testing. Aggie goes off to the next room for a blood draw.

I'm so happy, Aggie is back. Yes, she does have an abscess, and they are also testing the blood right now for something else too. Dr. Gerri explains everything to me again, and spends more time with Aggie.

Aggie will be fine. She has 2 ailments, and the need for medication. I am instructed carefully on the medication, and to follow up in 1 month, sooner if there's an emergency. This is about 1.5 hours time. Dr. Gerri probably will skip lunch today, work late tonight, or both.

Maybe you ask "why is this today's story?" Well, several reasons. First, to say once again I have been blessed to have extra-ordinary veterinarians caring for my companion animals. I've almost never run into a veterinarian who wasn't top notch in ability and attitude for my animals. I've only switched vets once because of such a situation, yet had animals my entire life. Vets are a cut above as far as I'm concerned. They are by far some of the kindest, most compassionate, people I've ever met. Conversely, driving home I was struck with the thought that most people do not have medical care on this level. I honestly can state that I do not.

About 1 month ago I was sick. Sicker than I can remember being in years. I finally broke down and admitted I needed a doctor. I called my doctor of choice. "The doctor can see you in 2 weeks." TWO WEEKS. Seriously. I call a local medi-center. I'm told I can have an appointment the next day, I grab it. As instructed, I arrive 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork. The waiting room is standing room only, it is that overloaded. After waiting, standing room only, over 1 hour past the appointment time, I am finally seen by a nurse practitioner. The time devoted to my illness by the NP is approximately 6 minutes. I'm given a diagnosis, 2 prescriptions, and shuttled to the payment window. Are you surprised they don't take my insurance? Its par for the course. My wallet is emptied, and I'm cast aside without a second thought, no follow up orders, nothing.

No matter the state of human health care, at least the state of veterinary care is where it should be. Marathon Veterinary Hospital, I thank you. Through the years here you have provided the best veterinary care imaginable, with tender loving care. The good doctors and staff at MVC also take the time to volunteer with local charities, both for people and animals. Leading by example.

I wish I could say the same for our own health care.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I Hear Music. Again.

So... were you there, and I just didn't see you? Which did you choose.... Reggaefest, or Jahfe'. I was at Jahfe'. We arrived early, and secured a table right up front next to the dance floor. Had some food, and beverages of choice (do you really have to ASK again? Yes of course we had a designated driver silly, we always do!) We're eating, drinking and watching the band set up. Hooray for very large speakers being set into place. The sun went down, the crowd flowed in, and the blistering music started. Hey... over there... who's the 1st person on the dance floor....? It's Bonnie, adorable Bonnie! "Hi Bonnie!!"

Ooooo, I'm having a goooood time. Seeing people I know, cocktails flowing (personally I take my champagne with pineapple juice these days, thanks for asking) and really soaking this in. The tiki is open air. We're basking. I look up.... crystal clear night, stars everywhere. Its kind of surreal at this point, seriously, what did I do so RIGHT to deserve this? Silently I thank the Universe, as energy pulsates all through the night air.

We're in the mix now.... having a great time. The hours are passing far too quickly. Oh no! Tomorrow of course is a work day... we HAVE to leave. But, wait! John & Kathleen show up exactly as we're leaving. This is so unfair! John is my regular reggae dance partner. Us: "Where the BLEEP have you been???" Them: "No Name Pub." 'nuff said. They order their drinks, and work pretty hard to get us to stay....there is no way, not this time. I admit sometimes this B&B morning stuff just is a buzz kill. Having been on the wrong side of a late night yet still having to rise & shine for work, I've learned just how far to push it. This was enough, and it still equaled some buyer's remorse upon waking.
We leave, roll down the windows in the car to hear the band as we drive down the street. That's done, flip on the CD player. Car dancing? Game on!

Home already? Hm.... a few glasses of water, and then the insurance policy to ward off the evil spirits of possibly too many cocktails.... pomegranate chip (vegan) ice cream. Pajamas. Sleep. Life is good.

Beep, beep, beep. 6am. Already?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Let It Rain

Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

Here in the lower Keys, there's a lot of people passing through. Most don't give a second thought to our water supply. For those of us who live here, we think about it constantly. Those who pay attention know that this is a crisis globally which must be addressed sooner more than later.

Some Keys water comes from Lake Ockeechobee (far); some comes from the Biscayne Aquifer near Florida City (far). During the dry season, and droughts (we're in a constant state of drought down here by the way), the water authority does "blending." They take water from the ocean, process it through the desalination plant, and blend it with regular water.

Some people have cisterns down here. I'm sure if you wanted to build a new house, Code Enforcement would have something to say about a cistern. You can imagine that rain barrels are sought after down here. We have a rain barrel on every downspout. Thanks to a very ambitious plan to resolve a sewering upgrade, we will be acquiring many more barrels. Tonight, our local art gallery ( had the culmination of a silent auction for (drum roll....) RAIN BARRELS! Yay! A dozen or so artists donated their time and talent to design and paint rain barrels for charity.

In addition to being surrounded by water, we're steeped in talent. The artists in the co-op are a vibrant bunch, and in a word, gifted. They had drinks, snacks, live music and of course rain barrels at the gallery tonight. The turn out was outstanding plus there was a nice amount of money raised for charity. We came out as high bidder on a gorgeous barrel painted by one of our favorite artists at the gallery (pictured as Peri finishes his inspection). Carol has done a few commission pieces for us at the inn, plus you'll see her work sprinkled all through the inn.

"In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources has become the victim of his indifference."

Wouldn't a rain barrel be a lovely addition for YOUR home too? I sure think so!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


This Saturday all afternoon OCEANFRONT @ MM34 there's gonna be a party (something new and different for the Keys, haha). Three internationally acclaimed reggae bands are coming and spending the day sharing their music at the Lower Keys Reggaefest.

This is a picture of my friend Bonnie. We were at last years RF. She is an original flower child. I adore her. Bonnie has more grace and class in her pinky than most people could ever possess at all. She never has a cross word for anyone, and lives for music. Any kind of music. She sings, she plays instruments, she dances, she soaks everything in, and music bursts from her soul. Bonnie introduced me to the reggae music of Jahfe', thanks to her I'm a rock solid groupie.

At last year's fest, Bonnie was the first to hit the dance floor, and probably the last one to leave (I say "probably" because by that point things were getting a little, um, can we say fuzzy and leave it at that). I was up there too (thanks Bonnie!) as she pretty much inspired the entire crowd (HUNDREDS of people) to get up and move. It was glorious. A little rum never hurt either.....

So, here Reggaefest comes to town again. I hope to attend, but if I just can't swing a whole day away from the inn, Jafhe' blasts into town too! The party won't stop with the 'fest.... Jafhe' brings their burning hot reggae to the tiki Saturday night. If I'm not at the RF, you can find me hitting the dance floor kickin' it to their backbeat. Can't wait! We're gonna do it again next year... check your calendar. See you then! Irie.