Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I love it when animals do what they're "supposed to do". Like when an otter runs across a log like a slinky. Or when a Wood Stork drops the feet down for splashdown like an airplane lowering the landing gear. Sometimes it's just as exciting when an animal does something that they're not "supposed to do".

Today's eco-tour had 2 separate families, each with 2 teenagers. One of the young girls was excited to see snakes and alligators. Alligators are no problem at this time of the year. They sit in the sun and bask. Today we saw well over 400. But snakes are tougher and she was disappointed when we didn't see them on the boardwalk and had not seen them on our wildlife drive. But as we were rumbling down the crushed limestone, water board dirt road in the Big Cypress National Preserve, I noticed a dark line ahead in the distance. Excited for our first snake of the day, I had the group carefully get out of the van and head closer to investigate the reptile that was sunning itself in the road. I explained that this was not one of the 4 venomous snakes in the Everglades (i.e. Diamondback Rattlesnake, Cottonmouth, Coral Snake and Pygmy Rattlesnake). I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but instructed the girl with her camera to slowly move forward to take a picture if she wished. She did and we were all able to get very close and as I looked carefully, I still couldn't match the color patterns with any snake I'd seen before. And then it blinked.

Snakes don't blink. They have no eyelids! This was not a snake. "Legless Lizard!" I shouted feeling somewhat like Little Orphan Annie. This happened to be an Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis) which looks a lot like a snake. Just no legs! They do have eyelids, can chew their food and have ears. (unlike snakes that have no eyelids or ears and must swallow their food) This species is common in wetlands and grasslands and the only legless lizard in the Everglades. It's important to handle them carefully. Two-thirds of their body is tail and as a defense, the tail can break (like glass) and then regrow. They slither like a snake too and true to form, when I touched the tail, it slithered quickly towards the group, eliciting screams from the girls, and possibly me, (but who can say), and then it slithered into the sawgrass.
I'm glad I saw it blink. It felt like such a revelation and it reminded me of the importance to look a little closer, be patient and the reward is seeing and learning something new.

Thanks to those who leave comments or email me. If I haven't heard from you, please leave a comment - anonymously if you like so I know if you're reading this, just deleting it or using it to line the bottom of the parrot cage.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Yellow American

If you find yourself needing to choose which side of a fanatical World Cup soccer match to root for - choose neither. Or either. Or both.

The United States national team played the Ecuador national team today in Tampa, Florida and dating an Ecuadorian requires attending all Ecuadorian soccer matches on the continent. Or at least the state. (They only come here once every four years right?). My knowledge of World Cup soccer is as vast as Ma-Le's knowledge of baseball so this would be a learning experience for me. I played for 8 years as a kid, but the rules seem to be different at this level in most aspects.

There are two halves in a regulation match and just like a cantaloupe split right down the middle, both halves should be the same amount. Halves last 45 minutes each and if the referee decides he's really enjoying the half, as with a cantaloupe, he can add more. If it's sweet and juicy he may add several chunks of time and if he's grown sick of the match, he'll abruptly end the game and presumably no one is aloud to eat the rest of the cantaloupe and under no circumstances should you eat the rind. (I was hungry when I wrote this.)

One thing that is similar to soccer from when I played is "faking it". If someone steals the ball from you, you pretend they tripped you and fall to the ground. If the referee sees you writhing in pain, and this part really sells it - covering your face, he'll flash a yellow card at the offending player which I think says "Community Chest - Pay each player $50". But I was far away and couldn't really see.
If you stay on the ground long enough, they send your mom out to make sure you're OK, which I think is nice. If the referee did not see you "trip" and stumble ungraciously, AND play has resumed without you, you need to get up, limp quickly until you catch up to the pack and then hope that thousands of fans have forgotten it was you that just intentionally face-planted yourself into Bahaman Sod.

A suspicious American asked Ma-Le who the "keeper" or goalkeeper for Ecuador was, thinking she would have no clue. But she quickly responded "Valencia". I asked her later how she knew that and she admitted to making it up. Garcia, Vasquez, Cabrera and Ramirez would have also worked apparently.

There are 34 million Ecuadorians living in the US. I just made that number up, but it felt that way driving to the game, parking in the lot and sitting among the Ecuadorian yellow and blue. The crowd was the largest to ever see a World Cup soccer game in Tampa and was made up of roughly 14,000 Ecuador fans and 17,000 American fans. The Ecuadorians were decked out in their yellow and blue jerseys and it was no coincidence that I was wearing a yellow shirt. If Ma-Le has to root for only the Cardinals, I'll sell out my country and root for the Ecuadorians. Their team lost today 3-1, but they ought to be proud. They played well and they have great fans. The typical cheer in Spanish is ECUADOR - SI SE PUEDE - translation - "Ecuador - you can do it" - compared to the Americans cheer - and sadly this is true - "Ecuador - you suck". After hearing that screamed by many fans in our section, it was hard not to get excited when Ecuador scored their first and only goal.

I must admit to having little interest in soccer, but watching it live among 31,000 fans and watching it on TV are two entirely different things. I'd certainly go again and recommend it to sports fans - if only they promise to cheer - "America - you can do it".

Saturday, March 24, 2007


How bad is it living with me? Am I so horrible that I might drive one to leap off a balcony? The answer is yes. More on that later.

As I headed to work this morning, well before sunrise, I sat behind a car at a red light. No one coming either way. Not a car in sight for half a mile. And yes you can turn right on red, but the person in front of me didn't turn until the light turned green. It's ok. I got their plate. HAWAII! I assume they only have one road in Hawaii and it's a big circle around the island so no need to ever turn right? I cut them some slack.

On my tour today I had a couple from Boston who were in town to see the Red Sox spring training. Fair for me to assume they are Red Sox fans? Nope. They won an all expense paid trip to see 2 games from Bank of America. Airfare, Hotel, Car Rental and Restaurants included. Kinda cool. They rooted for the Red Sox anyway.

So tonight it was a bit warm (82 degrees) and I decided to let the cats out on the balcony. We live on the 2nd floor and it's 10 feet to the ground. I wouldn't jump. Now this may be a coincidence, but just last night I had asked Ma-Le if she wanted General Tso for dinner. I was referring to the Chinese food which is also the namesake for my cat, General Tso's. Did he misunderstand? Around 9:30 pm Ma-Le asks if I've seen the big dufus. Sure enough he jumped into the dark abyss! Maybe he saw a better place below. Maybe the Muscovy ducks looked tasty. Maybe the neighbor's cat Lo-Mien was looking good. I don't know.

I retrieved him. His little kitty heart beating as fast as a hummingbird's. No more free passes to the balcony. And next time I'll refer to the General Tso chicken as the number 12. (Steamed rice please)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Enemy of the State

One of the greatest transgressions one can inflict upon the "native" population of Florida is to drive with an out-of-state plate. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota - how dare you. New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey - you might as well bring a shoe bomb on a plane - or flash a Democrat Party Card. Now, there aren't too many Vermont plates down here, but "Floridians" know for a fact that a bright green plate is not one of the - and I swear to my God and yours this is true - over 100 varieties of Florida license plates that make it acceptable to drive on the sun soaked streets. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I was born here. I grew up here. I've lived in this state for 24 years of my life. I have rights. But somehow driving around with that beautiful green plate automatically makes me a motorized menace to other drivers. They tailgate me in the fast lane if I'm only speeding by 10 mph. They honk at traffic lights if I don't "leave early" and they give me a wave from time to time, without most of the requisite friendly fingers. I am humble, but know I'm an excellent driver. Just ask GEICO. But not the deer that offered a brake test for me. I failed. But I digress. It's been 2 months. Time for a new plate. Time to get the locals off my tail. Time for a trip to the county tax collector to pick from one of the 100+ plates for my truck. And they don't let you simply pick. You need to qualify to choose most of the plates.

For this one you need to inform them if you're with them or against them.

For this one your portfolio must contain at least 15% children but no more than 5% infants. Island children preferred.

This one is particularly deceptive. Money raised from this one goes to "Save the Manatee" -singular. It just happens to be "Mickey" the Manatee who every spring swims up to the Chesapeake Bay and has to be retrieved. Stupid Manatee.

There are plates for each of the colleges - University of Miami, Florida, North Florida, South Florida, Southeastern University, Nova Southeastern University, Bethune-Cookman (I thought that was a camping stove), Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences (that one's a liberal arts school). Plus 28 others.

To receive the US Marines plate you need to drop and do 100 or take a number and have seat, which ever you can handle. Either way a county employee will bark at you horrible things like "I BET YOU'RE GUNNA PICK THE PLATE WITH THE PINK BIRD, NANCY BOY!" (Sorry Nancy) or "I GUESS YOU LIKE MAPLE SYRUP ON YOUR PANCAKES!". Which didn't seem so much like an insult but was still frightening.

On each desk of each employee was a sign that said "Candy Bars - $1 - Raising Money for the American Lung Association", which I thought was odd, but was informed that in other county offices they sell cigarettes to raise money for the American Heart Association.

I eventually chose this one with the pretty pink "Flamingo" also known correctly as the Roseate Spoonbill. Money raised from these plates goes to support the useless effort to save the Everglades.

I tested it out right away by waiting 5 seconds after a green light while sitting in a turn lane without a signal to see what would happened (and that is true). And guess what. Nothing! I have a free pass to do whatever I like on the roads! Maybe tomorrow I'll apply suntan lotion while driving. Why not. I'm no longer an Enemy of the State.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Calusa Crunch

There was a time that you could walk anywhere along the southwest coast of Florida and hear the Calusa Crunch - the distinct sound of shell, breaking upon shell. You can still hear it if you know where to walk, but the remnants of this fierce, fishing tribe of Florida have been paved over, built upon, or lost to the walking trees, known as mangroves.

The last Calusa died of small pox in the late 1700's in Havana, Cuba. They had, for thousands of years been the dominant tribe in peninsular Florida and thrived on the abundant fish and shellfish along the coast. They were the first humans to attempt to terraform the land by creating inland canoe trails and ate so much shellfish that their shell middens or mounds are still some of the highest points in southern Florida. Marco Island, Chokoloskee Island and Mound Key are some of the largest mounds, amounting to hundreds of acres in some cases and high enough to protect their cities during most storm surges.

When I was growing up in Florida, the Calusas was the name of the 3rd grade class at Garden Elementary. Beyond that I had no idea who they were. Today, a drive along Fort Myers Beach is nothing more than a concrete parade of hotel floats and bikini clad marching bands, noisily making their way too and from the beach. But I noticed as I drove, tucked on the bay side of the island, a well hidden rec park, truly off the beaten path, so I pulled in to explore.

While beach revelers splashed about in red drift algae and seemingly innocuous sugar cane refuse trickling down river from the Agricultural Area, this tiny little park sits quietly, unused. So I took the time to walk the mile long boardwalks and checked out the ghost crabs in the mangroves. It was low tide, not much to see, but there were, enveloped by Mangrove roots, several old shell mounds, left as a reminder of an extinct race of people.The docent at the park suggested I check out the "Mound House" - an old house built on a shell mound and now a museum. I did and thought about the refuse, left behind by the Calusas. No one left to tell their story but the "trash" they left behind. There were 20,000 Calusas at the height of their empire. They were excellent fishing people and incredible navigators. They fed on dozens of species of shellfish. They hunted for turkeys, turtles, manatee and bear. They successfully fended off Spanish conquistadors for centuries before finally succumbing to European diseases.

When they dig up our trash heaps in a few thousand years, they'll find Red Bull cans, Tickle-me-Elmos, TV Dinner trays, Dole-Kemp bumper stickers, IBM computers with only 10 trigibytes of memory, snow globes, BeeGees CDs, Ooops - All Berry Crunch boxes, Heely's, Starbucks Megalattes, 42 trillion poopy diapers, bulky credit card sized cellphones and they'll wonder....what exactly did these people do?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cardinal Red

If you're going to do something stupid and suffer the consequences - blame your sister. It sometimes worked during my childhood, so I'll try it again.

I had a day off so Ma-Le and I wasted some precious dinosaur juice and drove across the Everglades to Jupiter to see my World Champion St.Louis Cardinals play the New York Mets in spring training (Cards 5-Mets 4).

We stopped along the way at Lake Okeechobee and in the Everglades Agricultural area, a vast "reclaimed" wetland of several million acres that is the source of most U.S. sugar and the greatest consumer of water from Lake Okeechobee. Water that once flowed through our greatest wetland is now stored and poured onto these agricultural areas when and where they need the water. I won't bore you with more stories of drought. So here's a picture of the lake from today. Normally the lake would spread out across the marsh you see beyond the boat. It's quite a bit lower than normal. I don't blame my sister for this. Later at the game, I realized I forgot the sunscreen again and ended up with a fantastic burn on my knees and the right side of my face. It's truly a nice shade of Cardinal Red. Can't wait for work tomorrow. You'd think I'd learn. I don't blame my sister for this either. After the game we stopped at my Grandmother's and took her out to dinner and then headed across Alligator Alley at around 9 pm. The Alley stretches 70 miles across the Everglades and with the exception of the Micasukee Indian Reservation gas station that closes early on Sundays, there are no gas stations for the entire stretch. Just before we got onto the interstate, my sister Tiffany called and we talked for a good 25 minutes. When I hung up the phone, we were somewhere in the middle of North America's largest wetland and my "low gas" light came on. We were at mile marker 72 - the nearest gas station was at marker 101. Could my truck make it 29 miles with the gauge on "E". Keep in mind, this is what the night sky looks like in the Everglades. You get a great view of the stars, far from the Megalopolis of Miami/FortLauderdale/Hollywood/PamBeach/Jupiter/DelRay/Dayton. Of course I'm just planning my spin for when the car coughs to a stop and I've stranded us in the middle of my favorite nowhere. Ma-Le suggested the truck shaking was probably a sign that it was running out. I didn't wish to tell her it was probably me shaking. We made it to exit 101 and filled the tank with a record amount of fuel for my truck. I guess I can't blame my sister for this either since it was something that was entirely my fault. And no need to call AAA and tell them I ran out of gas at "the office". One more trip safely through the Everglades, and the darkness hid my embarrassment from Ma-Le who couldn't see in the darkness for those last 29 miles that the rest of my face was also Cardinal Red.
(edit - the little cartoon JunglePete, which gets more comments than anything, which is a bad sign...should be wearing a Cardinals Jersey which Meez.com actually provides at a certain cost, which I'm unwilling to pay! So he's wearing...um....the road blues....not mets or cubs blue.....)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Showing a Lot of Leg

The Black-necked Stilts have returned to Lake Trafford as of today! These long-legged wading birds spend the winter down in Central and South America and return to nest in the marshes and mudflats in the Everglades (as well as other places in the southern U.S.).All but one Roseate Spoonbill have left the lake and as if a shift change has occurred, the Stilts have arrived. We have had 1/10 of an inch of rain this month and the lake is down a foot from average. There's a lot of mud exposed so the Stilts should have an easy time creating their simple nests of vegetation on the mud. They lay 3-4 eggs that camouflage perfectly with the mud and even when they hatch out in 3-3 1/2 weeks, the chicks will be mud colored. I'll do my best to get a photo, but I could just take a picture of mud and say they blend in. When I left here in 2000, the state was suffering from a severe drought that was worse than the year before and the year before. And what do you know, we are still experiencing drought. We have several thousands of golf courses where there used to be wetland. There is a new one going in at Palm Beach and they've been granted a special consumption permit to water their sod as soon as they get it in the ground....during the dry season. The $43 million dollar golf course needs the water after all! Never mind that our aquifers are very low and salt water is seeping in. That golf course needs water! As do all of the others. We can't have brown sod! There are well over 6 million people in southern Florida and studies have shown that 5 million is as many as the ecosystem can sustain (and that was an inflated number provided in 1987!)

So as to be less of a hypocrite, I'll be posting our water consumption for the apartment here each month and do my best to keep it low.

As for wading birds like Stilts and Spoonbills, they have long legs for a reason. I hope they'll still have water to wade in in 5 years. For now they're showing a lot of leg.

Friday, March 16, 2007

School for the Gifted

It's a known fact that I'm not terribly bright, despite attending Pine View School for the Gifted. That was the actual name of my school from 5th-12th (but when asked, I always muttered the "gifted" part under my breath). There's a certain expectation of a gifted student and I'll be damned if I'll be held to that standard.

The original Pine View was torn down in 1996 and relocated from Sarasota to Osprey, Florida. After 27 years of what was originally a campus dotted with portable buildings for classrooms, Pine View was transformed into a permanent facility with athletic fields, cafeterias and miracle of miracles - hallways. Gone were the days of tornado drills (under the desk and prepare for the Lollipop Guild!) and walking to the neighboring elementary school cafeteria for corn dogs and brussel sprouts (today Shepherd's Pie is served in fancy restaurants - $10.95 and still disgusting).

I drove by the other day - on a Sunday when the nerd alert level was low and checked out the "new" campus. It doesn't have the same sentimental attachment. There are less pine cones and thus less ammunition for bully nerds. And the walkways are not only paved but covered, which eliminates the "it was raining and I didn't want to get my viola wet" excuse that kept me from practicing. It's just not the same.

One thing that had not changed was my inability to comprehend something that seemingly I should have. As I drove around the student pick-up area, I noticed this sign. And I just can't quite explain the intention.
Is it an inspirational suggestion implying forward movement is progress? If so does this confuse parents pulling into the loading zone? Or is it warning of a potential parking violation? If so, how does one pick up their childif they are in constant forward motion?

I'll put the question to you - you may leave your comments anonymously or otherwise by clicking Comments below. That would be clicking "Comments", which is below this. I wouldn't want anyone searching for the "Comments below" link.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

March Madness

Rare are the people that join my safaris that really, royally, horrifically irk me. Today was my first since returning to EDS and he was a doosy.

Just like VINS camp, I need to make sure that all of my people or kids are where they're supposed to be. Today was no different. I had 12 people and they were getting on the Everglades National Park boat tour with other people so I did a head count. My nemesis, whom I will call Mr.Dumbleton, steps onto the boat in his loafers, pressed pants and polo shirt and says to me, "bet you never thought you'd be using your college education doing this!" I just looked at him with wrinkled brow and a menacing gaze and then said with a whiplash smile and sprightly cheer "Every day's an adventure!" and kicked him in the pants (but the last part was only in my head).

I guess it wasn't so bad. People say awkward things all the time.

In the afternoon, Mr.Dumbleton decided not to go on the airboat road. He'd been on one before. I have too. But I love going every chance I get. There was no room for me today, so yaay, I get to hang around with this guy for an hour!

The boat departs and there we are, two peas from two clearly different Mendel (Estelle click here) pods.

"You must get bored doing this" he asks.
"Na - there's something different everyday" I replied.
"You do this every day?" he said, asking the most often asked question."
"Just 2 times a week during the busy season"
"So what do you do for a real job? This obviously isn't what you do full time"
I, clearly showing the recessive trait of decency, politely explained that I'm the Director of Operations and this is in fact my "real job" and then I kicked him in the pants. But not really.

Since I don't have any pictures to post of this exchange, I thought I'd post a picture of an owl guarding its den/nest, sent in by Wayne in Phoenix, who described it as terrifying and dangerous - "It made me scream like a girl" - he said...or...something like that. I can't remember.

But to be fair - it was a HUGE owl.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Coffee: Cream, no Salt

In October of 2001, Bill, my mom and I drove to Montana to check on Bill's place in The Yaak (The only town in the U.S. that starts with a "The"). It was just after 9/11 and heading for the hills near the Idaho/Canada border felt like an escape of sorts. The 10 day adventure that awaited would involve no indoor plumbing, electricity from the generator we would enjoy sparingly, no tv, and a radio that picked up only CBC news from Alberta. But there was coffee. And I could live with that. On day one, we set up shop; cleaning the house, getting the generator going and rifling through the 50 gallon barrels of flour, popcorn and other necessities for Armageddon. We were really just visiting, but it felt like we were digging in. While mom and I worked on the wood stove, Bill made coffee, prepared it for us and brought it over near the fire which was now driving away the cold, damp air. Coffee would be good. I took a sip, looked at mom who had the same look of disgust and came to the conclusion that this would be a long cup of coffee and a long 10 days in the Yaak. Bill makes awful coffee. It would seem, that a man who drinks his coffee black, is quick to put any white substance in someone else's coffee. It was salt that sweetened that cup of coffee and thank God he had more beans to grind.

Re-enactment of this morning's cup of coffee (Part 1)

I thought about Bill this morning as I spit my coffee out. I usually have a cup at home before work, but since it's been mandated that we all conform to this arbitrary and unnatural time change, I required a second cup to get me through my Everglades trip. (I'll take this moment to welcome this blog's 50th subscriber - Estelle! Lots of big words in the last sentence kid, but basically your Uncle Petie is annoyed that we had to change the clocks an hour...grr). So anyway, I stop at the Valero convenient store, poured a cup, mixed in my 4 teaspoons of the sweet stuff, prayed that no one was judging my sugar intake and took a big old sample swig. And flashed back to 2001.

Why they put the unlabeled salt container next to the Splenda, Sweet n'Low and non-dairy creamer is beyond me. But needless to say it was naaaaasty.

Re-enactment of this morning's cup of coffee (Part 2)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Spring Ahead

Ma-le's family has been here visiting, so no time to post and much to (my wee little sister) Mandy's dismay, she's had to go back to reading her horoscope in the a.m. instead of this nonsense. Hopefully this helps on both counts.

(March 12th, 2007 - Horoscope for people born on December 19th - "This week you will find the perfect opportunity to embezzle money from your company. Take advantage. You’ll never get caught. Here’s a genuine no risk way to get that bonus you’ve been asking the boss about for the past few weeks. He won’t give it to you? Take it. Follow the true American tradition of taking what you want when you want it. Be aggressive.")

Annnnnyway.....I took the Garcia family to see the Manatees that congregate around the power plant. The warm water discharged from the plant attracts them (the Manatees, not the Garcias), but all of the manatees were out in the Gulf of Mexico since the gulf has been warmer lately for some odd reason...something about "Global Warmings?"

There was a Swamp Rabbit, which was not as exciting as a Manatee. Apparently the males fight ferociously for mating rights with females. I didn't wish to get much closer as it may have been incubating an egg. Which reminds me that I forgot to give up anything for lent. I'll just give up twice as much chocolate tomorrow. I've digressed again.

As their name Swamp Rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus) suggests - they do inhabit swamps through out Florida, regardless of the large crocodilians that are found in the some of the same locales.

Failing in my quest to impress with Manatees, I decided to take them out to Sanibel Island off the coast of Fort Myers to check out the beach. Since I had a request for no more Pelican pictures, here are some gulls. It was a beautiful night with a cool breeze blowing and crickets chirping. Juan Jose and I were stumbling through a cluster of Sea Grapes just after dusk looking for a hidden geocache while Patrico was lucky enough to spot 2 Eastern Screech Owls. I abandoned the geo search and pursued the owls. No luck in getting a good photo, but we did catch the owls, mating, which lasted all of 5 seconds.

Awkward segue here, but it's late and I need to sleep so I'll finish with another picture of a sunset - but no pelicans.

Ma-le's mom flies back to Ecuador in a few days, so I'll post this for her.
(Pia, Ma-Le, Juan Jose, Patricio at Bowman's Beach - Sanibel Island, FL)
Bye mama Garcia - see you soon.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Otter Syndrome

I drove past a small pond outside of Londonderry, VT a few years ago and watched an otter slide across the ice, look around as if to say "watch this" and t dove through a hole in the ice. From that day forward, I expected to see an otter at that same spot. Every time, no matter when during the year. I never saw an otter there again. But never stopped looking. Now anytime I see an amazing wildlife sighting I expect to see it again in the same place. I call it Otter Syndrome.

I had a full-day Everglades trip today and while my group was on the boat ride (where I filmed the Dolphins last week), I stayed on shore. I can only take the boat captain's jokes once a month. I stopped in at the Everglades National Park gift shop and noticed a baby otter stuffed animal and thought how cute it was - I should get one for mom. It made me sad for a moment but I decided otters shouldn't make anyone sad and let the thought pass. No doubt that will make my sister cry.

After lunch my group headed for our swamp walk which follows a boardwalk 1.6 miles into the Fakahatchee Strand State Park. Along the board walk are interpretive displays like Poison Ivy - in front of a tree covered in poison ivy. Live Oak in front of the live oak. River Otter - in front of a pool of water. I joked to the group that this is where the otters should be. I saw otters here in 1999 and there's a sign here. This is where otters should be right? And we moved on. Further down the walk was a sign for White Tail Deer and I laughed again at the idea that a deer would be right there. And one of the group said "There's a Deer!" And there was! Very odd. It's not unexpected to see the Bald Eagles in front of the Bald Eagle sign, and we did, but on our way back out of the swamp, guess what was in front of the otter sign? Mama otter and two of the most adorable baby otters you can imagine. They played and pounced and dove into the water with their mama. I was only able to get this terrible picture, but that's ok with me. Mama is on the left - one baby is on the right...rolling in mama's urine for some reason...I better go look that up and find out why.
I couldn't help but think about my mom on the way home. When I lived here before and would get stressed, there was a place I used to go on Pine Island to watch the sun set and think about her way out in Montana. It calmed me. I called it my Happy Place. As I drove home tonight I heard her voice tell me to go to the Happy Place. I did - and this is what I saw.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Dalai Lama Ringtones

We've all endured the unconscionable. You're in the movie theater, a funeral service, a Tibetan Buddhist prayer ceremony when the inevitable happens...a cellphone chimes out with Zippadee-doo-daa, the Chicken Dance or Ooops I Did it Again. The offending cell owner scrambles to muffle or mute the thing, but instead increases the volume or by extracting it from a pocket or purse assures that everyone can hear it. Is it so hard to turn it off? Yes.

And if you've ever wondered "What would Buddha do?", the answer is simply ignore it.

On Sunday, Ma-Le and I attended a Buddhist prayer ceremony in Miami Beach where 3Tibetan monks and 2 lamas offered ceremonial blessings for a gathering of about 50 people. (Followed by a birthday celebration for Ma-Le's brother, a friend of the monks). I must confess any knowledge I have of the religion comes from 8 year old future Buddha Max (from Vermont) and wikipedia. I was quite impressed at the monks ability to chant through not one, but three cellphone interruptions. Where I may be distracted, the lamas and monks were focused and showed no sign of irritation. Unlike me. And thus more opportunity for my enlightenment. Near the end of the chanting, I noticed Ma-Le scrambling for my cell phone in her purse. She had been waiting for a call and forgot to turn it off and although it was on vibrate, she panicked, looked at the display screen, said "it's for you" and stuffed it my shirt pocket. If it's going to ring, better it's in my pocket! Thank the lamas it didn't. (Sorry I didn't pick up Amy)

After the ceremony, the monks presented a "mandala", which is a sand painting of geometric designs intended to symbolize the universe. They had created it over the course of 7 hours, a process that is intended to focus attention and helps aid meditation. It was then "destroyed" and cast into the bay.
In a disparate display of celebrations, the monks blessed the birthday cake, which was followed by the eating of the cake and a belly dancer. One monk, seen enjoying the show, proves he may still have work to do to achieve Dharma, I mean Dharma, I mean Dharmic enlightenment! I know I do.

After most guests had departed, I took one final photo of the offerings to Buddha and look who I caught stealing a grape! Thanks to Max who not only inspired my interest in learning more about Buddhism, but also sent me the best drawing the other day! Nice! He also reminded me of how much I miss teaching the kids in Vermont which led to the decision to volunteer at one of the nature education centers here soon.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

7th Quarter Stretch

One of the benefits of living in Florida is Spring Training for major league baseball. One of the benefits of belonging to the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce is "Take me out to the ballgame" night. (The other is free after-work meet and greets - free cheese and soda!) Members were invited to the Minnesota Twins vs Cincinnati Reds game Friday night in Fort Myers and I gladly took two tickets.
Ma-Le has only seen baseball in the fall of 2004 when my St.Louis Cardinals lost to most of your Boston Red Sox in the World Series and again in the fall of 2006 when my St.Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series while I was in Ecuador. She assumes that the Cardinals are always in the World Series. (Last year was the first time they won since 1982 - Wohoo!) but suffice it to say she has seen very little baseball and this would be her first game. In Ecuador they have soccer and any other sport is pointless, but on the way to the game I decided to test her knowledge of baseball.

Pete - "How many innings are in a baseball game?"
Ma-Le - "What's an inning?"

Pete - "How may outs does each team get in an inning?"
Ma-Le - "An out is when someone hits a home run right?"

She actually picked it up very quickly and was attentive during the whole game, which may have had something to do with the guy who was beaned by a line drive in the 2nd inning. She also very wisely decided to root for the team that not only was scoring more runs, but eventually won (The Reds).

After the game the stadium provided the "best fireworks show in all of spring training!" with no hyperbole added whatsoever! No it was lame. At one point I thought the palm trees were on fire. A few orders of business - Ruth now leads Sean 3-2 in the grammar/spelling correction department. I'll need to think of a prize for the most errors pointed out. Or I'll need to learn possessive vs plural soon.

Also - if you leave a comment, leave your name or at least some cryptic hint as to who you are so I know I'm not letting the creepy dude in Tunisia from posting any more strange comments.

Lastly - no sooner did I post the last entry and there was a report of several deaths caused by the tornadoes in Alabama. I make light of certain things and in this case, something that terrifies me more than clowns, but I was lucky that the tornado that hit near Fort Lauderdale didn't do more damage. It really was a nerve wracking 25 minutes and I feel terribly for the people in Alabama and Missouri that were affected by the storms.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Auntie Em! It's a Twister!

I don't think I'm in Vermont anymore.

As I sat in the parking lot of the Bahia Mar Resort in Fort Lauderale Beach, a softball-sized chunk of ice slammed against the driver side window of my truck. I looked out at this mishapen glob of ice, now resting on the ground and thought maybe some spring breaker had heaved it from their balcony for fun. But just as I began to step out of the truck to get a better look, a shower of golf ball-sized stones began pelting everything around. (Article from the Sun-Sentinel)

I had thought a few seconds earlier that the sky looked menacing, but it's Florida and thunderstorms are routine. As quickly as the hail began, the rain began pouring down and within a minute the street was flooded. I pulled under the above-ground pedestrian walk-way that led to the beach to avoid the ice-pummeling and soon there were a dozen cars tucked under the bridge seeking refuge from a storm that was now blowing winds over 60 mph. My truck rocked back in forth from the gusts and the hail stones grew in number as they dwindled in size. Panicked drivers of cars that were caught out honked to be let into what little room there was under the bridge.

As the storm was in full force, I called my sister Tiff outside of Boston to ask what the heck was going on. She reported back that a tornado had been spotted in Tamarac 5 miles northwest and another was later reported in Port Everglades less than a mile southwest. A few windshields were cracked, from the hail, but my truck was fine, just a bit shaken. So was I. I'd have more pictures but the sky was as dark as dawn and the rain and wind made it impossible to open a window. When it did stop, I got a picture of the hail stones before they melted.
Check out the palms and flags in the background. Here's a close up where you can see the hail stones raining down. Lookout! Here's the map of Tornadoes for 2/28/2007 - Kansas had a few more. How cliche...