Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Time Machine: 1998

It's premiere season which means the Tivo is overdrive trying to record all of the programs I can't watch and none of the commercials I don't have to. Which is a double negative. But I'm still not going to watch the commercials. And since I have TV to watch and the rainy season is keeping me indoors, I have no adventures to offer today.

Tivo is by far the greatest invention of all time. If someone invented a diaper for cats that might be right up there and although no one has invented a commercially viable, hydrogen powered hovercraft with built in wifi, ipod and gps they have invented a time machine. Or at least a website that has archived webpages of just about every site ever.

I had the entertaining task of looking back at my companies website over the last few years on http://www.archive.org/ and jumped back to 1998 when a naive, yet fantastically moustached Jungle Pete started working for EDS. Ok it's a hideous moustache. I look like I belong in the Village People. And what's with the tiny little hat on my bald head? I look like an organ grinder monkey without the organ. More Everglades Adventures coming soon. In the meantime I need to go rescue the cat. My diaper experiment is not working.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pig Chicken

There are few things that I fear. Dropping my keys down a storm drain is one. Clowns including mimes. Stumbling into a beehive is another. For anti-phalactic reasons. But my greatest fear is unpredictable animal behavior and there are few as unpredictable as pigs.

My latest adventure brought me to Alligator Creek at the Port Charlotte Environmental Center. It's unstaffed presently because no one in their right mind would slog through the flooded trails and mosquito inhabited salt marshes of this park in September. But flowers bloom, mushrooms grow and you never know what you'll see unless you get out and experience it and so I did.
American Beauty berries color the palmetto scrub lands purple and while they may be tasty treats to the raccoons, the cellulose seed coverings are not easily digested and make for nice crap adornments. It's the height of the rainy season. Everything is wet. Everything is rotting and decomposing.
Vestiges of a front lawn flower garden?

From beginning to end, the trail is under 3-12 inches of water. Here I had to ford across ankle deep, tanic-acid stained water. No worries except for the occasional raft of red ants that have become swamped and now float to dry refuge.

Mosquitoes I can deal with. But this scene concerns me. Not only do pigs, (which were introduced by the Spaniards 500 years ago) create an environmental mess as they dig for grubs, they have not standard practice for fleeing which I find unacceptable. When approached, they run in any direction and on occasion straight at me. No pigs sighted yet, but I know they are here.
A snort and a "wuuuuueeeeeee" followed by crashing through the palmettos makes me stop in my tracks. There's a big pig, nearly 2.5-3 feet tall, palm-brown fur providing excellent camo. If it has tusks I'll be even more nervous.The next one is obviously a female and I spook her from her resting spot. It's hot and they lie in the mud and this one darts up and runs away - stops and then charges through the palms. I grab a rotten oak branch, look for the nearest tree to climb and wait. She stops again when I scream an obscenity and she heads in the opposite direction.
There's a year round season on pigs here and as I get to the furthest point on the loop trail I hear a gun shot. Could I have entered a park where hunting is allowed and I ignored the signs? Now I'm really nervous and feeling stupid, so I slosh loudly through the flooded trail and shout more obscenities at the pigs. They leave me alone, but it reminds me of the differences between hiking in Vermont and here in Florida. Snakes, Pigs, Bugs, Gators - there's no shortage of things to keep aware of. But that's what makes it an adventure! It turns out that hunting is off limits in the park, thus the concentration of pigs along my route. They're not stupid! Neither am I, but I am a chicken when it comes to pigs.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Frogger: A Night in the Everglades

Who wants to go to the Everglades at night? (Survivalman Mike might say no at this point). Wanna go on an airboat? Would you go on an airboat in the Everglades at night? That's exactly what I've proposed as a new addition to our Everglades tours and just a few nights ago we ventured out on a test run to assure we could do this safely.

I called the boss an hour before the trip and recommended that if we don't return to nix the plan. He agreed, wished us well and we set out for Sunset Airboat Tours on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. Fellow guide (and stand up comedian) Dwayne Cunningham and I hatched this plan months ago, but before we unveil our new excursion we wanted to do a trial run - from the docks, across the sawgrass prairie and out to the Miccosukee Indian "hammock" (or island) and back. Airboat captain Regis, equipped with a headlamp similar to those used by the glades froggers, pushed us away from the dock and steered us off into the night.

30 miles east, the sky over Miami glowed orange and as we headed west into the darkness, an abundance of fireflies and click beetles used their bioluminescence to blink their photonic aphrodisiac to attract the opposite sex.

The ride was slower than usual and chillier than usual. Regis suggested the headlamps worked fine but we could have used a bit more light. I suggested doing the trip during the day.
But once we stepped off the boat and onto the Indian island, the airboat prop stuttered to a stop and the cacophony of Pickerel Frogs, Pig Frogs, Narrow-mouthed Toads, Green Tree Frogs and Mink Frogs provided a spectacular symphony that made the trip worthwhile. Walking the boardwalk, each few steps brings you to a new amphibian neighborhood where a new species dominates their tiny patch of swamp. With all of the noise you'd think it'd be easy to find them. We spotted one.

On our way out and back we caught the reflection of the orange-eyed alligators (which is simply a reflection of our lights off the reflective surface at the back of their eye called the tapetum lucidum). They feed at night on fish and whatever else they can easily chomp and swallow. We ain't on the menu.

In all it was a great trip and certainly one I hope we can start sooner than later. And you're welcome to come along.

Friday, September 14, 2007

New England Rewind

How often do things go according to plan? And when they do are they worth reading about? Depends on what you planned, but my trip to Massachusetts and Vermont to visit friends and family was fantastic. I'm sorry I missed out seeing a few of you - but I have the perfect destination for any of the New Englanders once winter comes. Come on down to Florida!

Since a previous post had the baby making a "fiend" face - I felt I needed to put a nicer one. 2 1/2 year olds are fun and learn many bad things from uncles.

This is not one of them. This makes me tense but the baby likes doing the Shake-n-Bake on the beach in Mass!

One of my obsessions during the vacation was to find a geocache each day. These are "treasures" hidden around the globe. You can find out where there are on http://www.geocaching.com/ and then use a GPS to find them. Here Brian and I search the rolling hills near Newburyport (with success).

Since she could walk, Peyton has marveled at the Turkeys that live outside her window. They roost in the pines nearby and when they feed in the lawn, she'll go from window to window to see what they are doing.

And sometimes she plays "Babyzilla".

Back out at Rockport, we check out the lighthouse and the old quarry 1/4 miles from the ocean. We're as high up as it looks.

New baby is thinking "Please don't blog this". Poking the baby does not make him crawl. It's been 10 days since he was born. Do something exciting!

Jacob, Abigail, Tiff and I went geocaching to find Abigail's birthday cache. The fun is going to places you might not ever know about otherwise.
I rented the Ford "Funion" in Mass to get me to Vt. I dunno what it is really but the kids got a kick out of me driving around in a pumpkinmobile. It was so energy inefficient that even the picture drains the amount of space I have on this blog for photos.
In the hills of Grafton, VT is the Starry Mountain Alpaca Farm run by friends John and Kim. It's the most ideal spot I can think of. They grow their own food, raise the Alpacas for wool, live off the grid using solar and they have DSL! The animals are beautiful if not territorial as I found out while feeding one of them. She made a cute little squeaking sound which I thought was a happy noise until she sneezed/spit the food back in my face and all over my shirt. I was lucky, as it was recently swallowed and had not been dredged up from the rumen where it would have come out hot and gooey - which is how I like Krispy Kreme Donuts - not Alpaca spit.

I love this picture. It's even better in person.

Bill, me, John, Kim and Sandy the barkless dog (thanks to a deterring citronella spray)

Had a nice 2 day visit with Bill who darted around Vermont with me. We even went antiquing (for Smurfs - kids lov 'em...) Bill and I visited my old stomping grounds. The view is from the edge of Lowell Lake in Londonderry where I was the Park Ranger for 6 years.

There's a beautiful log cabin at the state park with requisite Moose head. I do miss the place.

The gang gathered at the Inn at Long Trail in Sherburne where everyone seemed to have a Guinness - but I a Margarita. From left to right (Benjamin, Amy, Annie, Lisa P, Mrs. S from the witness protection program, Debbie, Steve, Sharon and Survivalman Mike. Bill and Pete in the front.

I don't know what i did wrong, but click on the picture and it looks like I am getting a serious scolding from Lisa.

I always said "Home is where the mom is" and these days I sometimes feel a little homeless. But here in Plymouth, VT, where mom worked for 6 years is where she is in spirit to me and I can't help but associate her with this quintessential Vermont scene. Mountains, rolling hills, pasture and gigantic Swiss Rolls.

Back in Mass to visit Lil Sister in Plymouth, Ma where husband Josh and Estelle are searching for frogs.
Found one.

And Stelly and I rounded out the week with another cache on the 9th straight day. Fun little spot and cool little walking bridge!

And just to come full circle - My final evening at Brian and Tara's before heading home where I was treated to the Boot Scootin Boogy.

Can't wait to come back. Can't wait for you to come down.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trail of Tears - Trail of Ostriches

My mom always said "you're only disappointed by your expectations". As an Everglades guide, the Seminole Nation to me has always represented perseverance and the 3000 member tribe has always had my respect for their ability to adapt and thrive in the inhospitable Everglades. A trip to the famed "Billie Swamp Safari" on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation (Click for satellite view) chipped away at that notion and I'm left wondering about what is being sold to the public in the middle of the Everglades.

The Seminoles haven't always inhabited this area. They actually descended from several tribes belonging to the Creek Federation of tribes that traditionally lived in the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia areas. During the early 1800's President Andrew Jackson used the Indian Removal Act, a shameful piece of legislation, to forcibly remove Native Americans from their tribal lands. While many Seminoles were forced to reservations in Oklahoma, hundreds fled into northern Florida where they were pursued by the US Army. Over the course of three Indian Wars (the last ending in 1858) the US Army spent many millions of dollars pursuing and battling Seminoles throughout the state. The US Army ceased hostilities, leaving them to starve in the swamps of the Everglades, with the expectation that the remaining 300 Indians would eventually become extinct.

They didn't. They survived, thrived, were the first tribe to have legal gambling in the US and just recently purchased the Hard Rock Cafes for 964 million dollars, becoming the first indigenous tribe in the world to buy a global corporation.
It's not outlandish to say they have on one hand been wildly successful and on the other hand suffered a culture crash all at once. Which brings me to my latest adventure in the middle of the Everglades. At work I am constantly reminded that the biggest, baddest and most adventurous trip you can take is at Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Reservation. So, on my trip home from Fort Lauderdale on Monday I drove 25 miles off of Alligator Alley to see what everyone is talking about. Over the course of the many years I have guided in the Everglades, I have created an elaborate Indian village in my head, with Cypress Swamps and Alligators surrounding the Chikee huts the natives live in. I was wrong. Instead I found what looked like a Fort Lauderdale suburb plopped in the middle of the swamp. Normal homes, ATVs and Hummers parked in the driveway. The swamp is not supposed to look like this! To assure the complete destruction of my image, I took my first Swamp Buggy ride. A Swamp Buggy is like a super-sized ATV for 20. It can go through 6 feet of water and mud and so we did, but what we encountered was far from the Everglades experience I expected.Our guide slowed the buggy and exclaimed with faux shock at the sight of a Red Deer from Europe!
I don't know what the heck this is, but it doesn't belong in the Everglades. (edit - It's an Eland - from Africa)

Ok this was amusing. As the guide barked at the bird, it became enraged, causing legs and neck to turn bright red. Ostriches in the Everglades...why! WHY!

I was the only one, or so it would seem, that was annoyed by the guide passing up the native Glossy Ibis for one of the more destructive little beasts in Florida. There were pigs with babies and more babies with pigs and babies and babies and mothers and babies. Pigs everywhere. Just what we need. The people were delighted.

This I can handle. Bison once roamed the plains of Florida. Actually not that long ago. The last Bison was killed in Florida sometime in the mid-1800s. There are 300 of these roaming the mud holes and sloughs of the reservation now.

Oh I guess I can handle this one too. Am I going soft? I mean it is a Water Buffalo. It makes sense to see one of these here even though it's half a world away from home.

Ironically, the caged animal is one of the few natives on display here at Billie Swamp Safari; the Florida Black Bear. It's not dancing because it's happy.

I'm now disenchanted. Where is the true culture of the Seminoles? Where is the true representation of the Everglades! This is what people are spending their money on! This is my competition! And they call this an Eco-tour! ACK!

Of course this is only a part of the reservation. I have yet to visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Soon enough.

Not a very funny blog today. Hope you weren't disappointed. But what did you expect?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Touchdown: Dishonesty is the Best Policy

It's still no secret that I dislike flying. But it was my only choice to get back from Boston so I flew home today after 9 days in Mass/Vermont. It was a fantastic trip with visits to great friends and family and when I'm feeling more rested I'll revisit some of the highlights which will include a Survivalman reunion, a snarfing Alpaca and chasing Turkeys. For now though - another airport diatribe.

My return home began as it started - with another "random" pat down, but this time I was entitled to enter the gas sniffing, air blowing Marilyn Monroe chamber in order to pass through security. They once again politely asked if I wouldn't mind stepping into the chamber; I, knowing full well that saying no only aides and comforts the terrorists. So I figured I'd try a new experience, but not before making a face full of disdain for this less than random process. I don't have a picture of me making that face, so I had my niece simulate one for me. I call it the Marilyn Monroe chamber because the machine blasts you with air from all directions and if I were wearing a dress I could do a fantastic MM imitation. Regardless, the Pfft Pfft Pfft blasts are great at removing powdered donut from my beard, but not so good if I'm trying to hide my full back Mr. T tattoo which I don't really have.

On the plane, I'm always appreciative/distressed by the level of honesty the airline pilots express when explaining things like: 1) why the cabin smells like camel (lightning hit the plane and it broke the ventilation!) 2) Why we're experiencing heavy turbulence (they decided at the last minute to fly over Tropical Storm Gabrielle!) 3) Why we're hurrying to our destination (the co-pilot is feeling under the weather!)

How much of this do I need to know? As a waiter I never explained the truth and people were grateful. Or at least they should have been. or would be if they knew. Just imagine! "I'm sorry your food is taking so long. The line cook's band aid from his flesh eating bacteria wound fell into the soup." Or "we're filtering your water a third time because of the high levels of fecal coliform."

Just don't tell me. Once I'm in the air, just make sure we touchdown safely.

I've never seen anyone taking pictures in flight. Maybe it's against the rules, but I took a few anyway. Click the photo for a larger view. I think it's cool.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mill-Working Satanic Imps

"Mill Pond - Site of the sawmill built by John Selee in the 18th century and continued by his son, Nathan, a wizard who purportedly used satanic imps to run the mill at night."
My sister Tiffany and I went hiking today and found this sign. This is an actual sign in Easton, MA near their house. It should be noted that satanic imps are not nocturnal by nature. It's a common misconception, but in this case, they were probably used contrary to labor laws of the day, thus the need to point out their use in the mill at night.

In question here is not if imps exist, but if Nathan "purportedly" used them or not. Even more unusual is that someone named Nathan would be a wizard. It just doesn't ring. I need to dig up more on this story. A simple sign does not do the story justice.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Code Orange: Tales of Captain Kritcher

I loathe flying. I dislike the takeoff. I dislike the turbulence. Not fond of the baggage retrieval. Despise the landing. The only good think about flying is I get to read books which I seem incapable of doing outside of this transportation process.

I don't mind the security at airports. It's absolutely necessary for the most part. But one I resent is the "random checks" they do when heading for your gate. As I traipsed through Southwest International Airport I was reminded repeatedly that we were in a "Code Orange". They never said what that means or why we were in it. Just "be on alert". And so I was, but if they had elevated the security alert to "Code Bananas" while I was there I might have freaked. As I passed through the security check point I was very politely asked to step aside so they could conduct a "random search" of me. They explained the process and despite being asked to do this the last three times I have flown, I acquiesced to what I deem a slightly humiliating pat down. They said it was my cargo shorts that triggered the random search, which makes it not so random. I guarantee it's my facial hair. All terrorists have facial hair right? That's what I get for looking "jungly". I was thanked and sent on my way.

On the plane I was lucky enough to sit next to a teenage boy who sneezed on me as he slept. Gross, but the main trouble with flying for me now is that I met Captain Kritcher recently, father of friend Kate and during that visit I was fortunate/unfortunate enough to hear the tales of a veteran commercial airline pilot. I put my trust in pilots. You have no choice but to have faith, but after talking with the 30+ year captain I have a greater appreciation for what they must endure flying to different destinations. Crosswinds, tailwinds, short runways, altitude, auroras, alcohol levels (not his), terrorism, pretzel depletion and on and on. So as we approached Logan Airport and the landing gear came down and then was retracted and then came down again I couldn't help but think of the Tales of Captain Kritcher and what our captain was steering us through right then. I fear few things, but my blood was flowing at that moment. Apparently the landing gear was momentarily stuck. It was an ugly landing, but any landing you walk away from is a good one.

From Fort Myers to Boston I started and finished The Last Pick: The Boston Marathon Race Director's Road to Success co-authored by Linda Fechter (mom of VINS campers). It was a great book about endurance runner David J. McGillivray who ran from Oregon to Boston in 80 days. I can't believe this isn't a movie yet!

Arriving in Boston, the PA passively reminded travelers that we were in a Code Lobster. All things normal.