Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mad & Madder

It's been suggested that I've been posting rants lately instead of entertaining explouts of the Everglades. I've eaten a few bags of M&Ms and things should return to abnormal soon. Sorry for the derailment.

More on the Everglades and a "return" to Tayos Cave coming soon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Super Tuesday! I Didn't Vote

My generation is lazy and for the most part don't vote. It annoys me and I try to make up for it by voting for them, but apparently that's not allowed. Today is the Florida Primary and I was actually excited to vote. After past election snafus, I had made sure that I was registered and good to go.

Back in 2000 I voted absentee in Florida for the general Presidential election. I had just moved to Vermont so I am ashamed to say that my country quite possibly "lost" my vote along with many other absentee ballots that year. This is not conjecture. This actually happened to some of those ballots. My vote may not have counted.

In the 2004 election I was registered to vote in Vermont and fully planned on voting in the presidential primary, but Vermont holds it very late in the primary season and by the time the election rolled around, 35 other states had already decided the outcome and my vote was useless.

While I feel the primary is important, this is a perfect example of why all of the primaries need to be at the same time. Why do other states have a greater opportunity to impact the general election?

It happened again today on Super Tuesday. I proudly walked across the street to Precinct 33 to vote. My name wasn't on the ballot. The septuagenarian quickly accessed the voter registration file via wi-fi on her laptop and told me where I should be. 3 miles away. Stupid. So I head there - I'm directed to a voting booth. I'm taught how to use the touch screen. Vote on the Amendment and it says "Congratulations". Apparently I was done.

I wasn't offered a choice for presidential candidate. When I moved back to Florida a year ago, I didn't choose Republican or Democrat as my party. And by not doing so, I wasn't permitted to choose one of "their candidates". Florida has a closed primary. So once again, my vote does not count.

I didn't even want to vote Yes or No for the amendment. Basically it says that if you own property and want to defer tax credits for non-school district properties and you haven't done this before and you've lived in Florida for over 12 months but don't have kids or dependents and you might be moving but you're not sure and you'd like to carry over and tax relief credits from a previous property that was more than $500,000 but was in an area that's more than 60% zoned commercial you can do so if you are married and have never inhaled.

I'm not stupid but it made no sense.


That was my option.

Ultimately Florida lost all of its 210 Democratic delegates for allocating delegates outside of the Democratic National Committee-approved time frame. So my vote was useless anyway. Thanks!

I really don't know how to end this. I'm full of rage. There's so little voter education. It's no wonder my generation is apathetic. I vote WHATEVER.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cow Surfin'

Surfing requires balance, patience and lack of fear. You're going to wipe out and when you do you have to paddle back out and catch the next wave. I have no idea what I'm talking about since I've never really surfed. But you get an idea watching cattle egrets riding the bovine wave across the saw grass prairies in the Everglades.

Yeah - there's cows in the Everglades.

I can't vouch for surfers, but I'd guess riding the cow is just as tough, if not tougher. You have no idea where the cow's going and they have a mean whip for a tail. While hiking out in the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest just to the southwest of Lake Okeechobee we watched a small herd tromping through the marsh, seemingly ambivalent to the Cattle Egrets riding their spine. The cow strolled through the grass and the birds rode the undulations as if on a roller coaster. Egret #3 hopped on and enjoyed a 2 second thrill before being slapped across the face by the tail. I may be expressing anthropomorphication, if for nothing more than to spell out such a long word, but truly because the bird looked embarrassed by being tossed from the ride.

Why in fact were they riding the bovine? They didn't seem to be feeding. They can certainly fly from here to there. I can only assume they're having fun. Or simply irritating the cows. Which might still be for fun.

While cows are not native to Florida, neither are Cattle Egrets. They have rafted across the Atlantic in the last century from Africa where their ancestors no doubt still cow surf.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Munckeys in Dipr

If you happen to recall the post from August 5th - Monkey Diapers - (a tale of my childhood experiences on the Florida Monkey Sanctuary, including instructions for cleaning poop swaddled monkeys) you may understand why it was the #2 most popular post of all time. Monkeys + Diapers + Kids is gold. (The only thing that can trump it is a the tale of survival in the Everglades.) But the events of August 5th had a lingering impression on the young, diaper-infatuated mind of little Josie who expertly transferred her image of the whole monkey diapering scene to paper. Her father Frank recently sent the original pencil on paper artwork to me which has been scanned and posted below for your enjoyment. I love it. Two monkeys, both with tails wearing obvious diapers. The third monkey relaxing in the grass waiting for a diaper change.
Thank you Josie!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

White Boy

"Can we mark you down as white?" the government employee asked.

"No - maybe Caucasian? But I'm not white."

"Well Caucasian is not an option".

"Ok - I choose other."

"How about mixed?" she asked writing it down on the document as if diagnosing me with bird flu.

Apparently a lot of people are marking "mixed" these days and it doesn't seem to have settled well with this Lee County government employee. It's hard to impose stereotypes if you can't determine a person's ethnicity or race. And really who can? (But we try!)

The recent Everglades Coalition Conference I attended last week had energized me to the point of making absolutely sure I was registered to vote. There are plenty of important issues that are at stake and if it means labeling myself on a government form- even as a mixed race - than I'm glad to do so.

But what is race? I had to actually look up what and where the Caucasian race comes from and I'll admit I ain't that.

But I loathe the term white. Who's white? I'm a pink and closer to brown. My ancestry consists of mostly Italian, part Scottish, part English, part Abenaki and who really knows what else. I'm not calling my ancestors out for philandering or anything but family trees are probably more like family vines and aren't we all mixed?

Having wasted the better part of an hour on my diatribe, Ma-Le and I stopped at the grocery store to get some things to make sandwiches. In the deli she proclaimed loudly "I don't like nuthin' French". And...tired of the constant French bashing since World War II, I proceeded to defend a country and their culture. First by correcting her English and explaining it should be "I don't like anything French" and then by standing up for the country. I saw Ratatouille. Who couldn't be swayed by a Pixar rat?

It turns out she simply doesn't like French Bread or French Dressing. I didn't ask about Poodles, Curls or Toast. But I didn't want my Hispanic....(or is it Latino) fiancee offending the French. They are "my people" after all what with them being white.

Mixed isn't so bad. I like mixed drinks and mixed nuts. It just makes it so much harder to be judgmental.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Rules of Engagement

There are several rules and guidelines that one must abide by.

1) Scratching under the chin is acceptable
2) Rubbing the belly is fine
3) Let them approach you, but don't be aggressive and chase after them
4) Never try to ride them
5) If they are feeding - never disturb them
6) Do not poke them
7) And if they seem to want their space - let them have it. You don't want to anger a manatee

I took Ma-Le to "Swim with the Manatees" for her birthday a few days ago. Crystal River - about an hour north of Tampa and 3 1/2 hours north of Fort Myers is the only place you are permitted to enter the water and swim among the nearly "400 manatees" that inhabit this river. There are over 2500 West Indian Manatee around the coastal waterways of Florida, but this is by far the largest concentration of the rotund mammals around.

We woke up before the crack of dawn and headed to the marina on the Crystal River - The air temp was nearing 60 degrees and although it would rise to 72 by sun up, the water was still cool enough to require wetsuits. Fancy! If there's one thing I despise more than swimming it would be wearing skin tight clothing. I won't post my wetsuit picture - but for your amusement and so my friends the Rosas can't blackmail me - here's a picture they took of me as Woodsy Owl wearing skin tight yellow leotards. At least I think that's what they call them. How the hell would I know. (More on Woodsy in a future post)After a 15 minute debriefing on the "Rules of Engagement" with Manatees and the rundown on the "stupid" rules the government is trying to establish to prevent the public from swimming with Manatees - the captain shoved off and began heading up river to the sanctuary. I say "stupid" - and I took the time to stop typing this an actually do the air quotes - because the captain feels protecting the manatees is "stupid" and that the laws "and stuff" that they are trying to pass are "stupid". I will from this point forward refer to our skipper as "Captain Stupid". Feel free to do the air quotes as you read this.

It was a chilly but beautiful morning. I shivered the whole way in my wetsuit. Aptly named because it was still wet from the day before when someone else's skin was squeezed into the same suit. Ma-Le snapped this lovely photo at dawn (6:30 am)

The Banana Island sanctuary is centered around one of many springs that gurgles water up from the aquifer. The manatees and other river inhabitants enjoy the spring and congregate here, protected from annoying humans by buoys and ropes. If they venture outside this protected area - prepare for chin scratchings and belly rubs! Oh how exciting this is going to be! In all seriousness - I was extremely excited - despite the wetsuit.

When we anchored - Captain Stupid expertly pointed out our first potential manatee and suggested it might be nearby based on the ring of 25 snorkelers peering into the murky depths. It wasn't so much of a ring as it was a huddle, like in football when the QB is giving the play. I figured I'd leave this one poor manatee to the masses and find my own. There were 400 of them right?
Our group of 35 disembarked into the cold water and doggy paddled their way to the ring of snorkelers. I waited and when someone shouted "it's coming your way". I sank into the water, tested my snorkel breathing and began my search. Nothing. I can hardly see my hands. Who named this Crystal River and why? The 12 foot, 1500 lb Manatee had eluded me. We spent the next 70 minutes paddling about, masks down searching for at least one of the "400 manatees" that congregate here. From the photo above you can see why they might not want to hang out here. In the 90 minutes we were anchored here, at least 5 other snorkel boats came along and at one point there were at least 150 people in the water.
I nervously looked up every few minutes to make sure my boat wouldn't leave me and my birthday girl and when the majority of our crew climbed back on board, I followed. A woman complained she hadn't seen a Manatee and Captain Stupid responded "Oh that's too bad, you're the only one". To which I and several others dejectedly said we hadn't either. Captain Stupid than angrily said "then why are you back on the boat!"

I never did see a Manatee in the water, much less swim with it. I was annoyed enough to consider poking one if I did. But it wasn't the Manatee's fault. The silly thing is I see them nearly every time I am out on tour. I thought it might be fun to see them from a different perspective.

As we chugged back to the marina, we passed a sailboat graveyard, littered with a dozen or so abandoned vessels. On the western horizon two cooling stacks appeared from the nuclear power plant. Apparently they are building another nearby.

I include no Manatee photos here - nor much in the way of natural history facts about them. I find that appropriate considering we saw none and in the end - Captain Stupid never told us anything about the Manatees other than what you can and can not do when you swim with them. Disappointing to say the least. Maybe this is spiteful - but I hope they pass that "stupid" law to keep people away from Manatees. Save the Manatees - Swim with an Alligator.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bucs Playoff - Giants Play on

No blog today as I despondently suffer through my Tampa Bay Bucs getting the boot from the NFL playoffs by the stinkin' New York Giants (14-24). This Anti-Blog topic was suggested by stinkin' Giants fan Annie Branch who can suffer with me next week when the stinkin' Giants get beat by the Dallas Cowgirls.

Grouchy Pete

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Super-sized Christmas Everglades tour with the Millers

When Lisa suggested she wanted to bring her family on my Everglades tour I was elated. When she told me there were 24 family members that would join me for this pre-Christmas excursion I had to super-size the plans. Our regular 14 passenger vans would not do. It was time to break out the 25-passenger "Funmobile"!
I worked with Lisa in Vermont from 2002-2006 before she took the helm of the Four Winds Nature Institute - a community based environmental organization staffed with some of the best educators around. She's just "super" and one of my favorite people. I must admit that guiding her family around the Everglades was a daunting task. Imagine the headlines if I inadvertently drove the entire family into a lake of alligators? It's the exact reason the President of the United States and Vice-President are not aloud to travel together - although I'd be glad to drive those two into said lake. I met the group in Fort Myers and after being chased away from our designated rest area/parking spot by an over zealous rest area/parking spot security guy, we found a better spot, left the caravan and headed south for the Everglades. The Miller family was every bit as energetic and enthusiastic as Lisa. It was almost scary. I'm used to my family gatherings where games of Monopoly are routinely ended by an "earthquake" and angry passengers threaten to leap from moving cars. But I digress as usual.

The boat cruise took us out to the edge of the Mangrove forest along the Gulf of Mexico where I could blissfully forget that not only did I lock the Funmobile key in the bus. I locked them both in there. Don't tell the boss. And if he's reading this. I'm just making it up for this story. Which I'm not. We were treated to a first for me on our Wildlife Drive when a 5-foot Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake slithered across the road. It paused. Rattled and eventually slithered into the sawgrass. A good reminder to watch our step along the way. (Apparently I was saved by my mother at the age of 5 when I wandered in our backyard and almost stepped on a Rattlesnake. other than that -this was my first wild one). On my tours, I always talk about the natural history as well as the troubles and the successes the Everglades have endured. I'm always concerned that environmental problems are a downer, but throughout the day, any mention of Everglades restoration success was met with spontaneous and unsolicited cheering. It was the most endearing thing I've experienced on a tour since a 5 year old boy told me back in 1999 that he wanted to save the Everglades so the Panthers could have a home.
My biggest worry for the day was selling the airboat as a legitimate part of an "eco-tour". They are noisy, but in the shallow waters of Lake Trafford and the Everglades, there is no other way to explore, lest one wishes to wander through the mucky swamp water of the most densely populated alligator lake in the world. Do they degrade the environment? Do they have a negative impact on the plant and wildlife. I will argue no. I hope I convincingly sold that. You have to experience it to understand it.

Our December 23rd trip was a day after the Winter Solstice. For the last 5 years I have led night-time solstice hikes up Mount Equinox in Manchester, VT. Although I missed it this year, it was nice to spend this day experiencing the solstice in a new way. I was hopelessly late getting to our airboat ride which was met with spontaneous and unsolicited cheers as the setting sun provided fantastic scenery around the lake.

The following day I discussed successful restoration projects in the Everglades and looked back to see the reaction of my new guests. They smiled and continued to listen. No spontaneous applause. I won't begrudge them of this reaction. It might be unfair to hold others up to such a high standard - There's really no family quite like the Millers.