Thursday, May 19, 2011

Homes In The Meadows

Take a Conch Republic Flag, Old Glory and the Union Jack and you have several cultural bases covered as well as adding a splash of color to the front of your Key West home.The Meadows neighborhood is decidedly my favorite place in town were I ever required to move back to the city from my suburban paradise up the Highway. Not everyone is hanging on to their toehold and the Spottswood Conglomerate is hard at work spreading the happiness around.
Not that we could buy another house in these bizarre economic time in which we live. Home ownership requires economic activity for most of us to be successful at it. I like The Meadows for the restrained and pleasant architecture, mixed enough to be interesting but also because the neighborhood is east of White Street is not hobbled by historic preservation requirements. Charming though they are to stroll through living with them is not to my taste.The Meadows has no commerce on it's few streets, the neighbors seem to get along very nicely as they tend to come out at dusk and walk their Cheyennes en masse, especially in the winter months. Bordered by Truman to the south, The Meadows also enjoys lots of greenery along it's streets. And the occasional cat. Can't forget the cats, even if they don't take kindly to being photographed during their ablutions.

Truman Avenue

The parched look of Bayview Park struck me like a slap in the face. It looks like Fall elsewhere, the dead leaves, the grass burned different shades of brown by a long hot summer. I know I am going to regret it, but I am starting to wonder if it will ever rain again.For Cheyenne, in town for a favorite summer walks around interesting neighborhoods the heat is a matter of indifference, be it dry of rainy it oppresses her from now till November. Truman Avenue looked emptier than I have seen it for months. This is the Phony War before schools let out and families come to Key West for the long summer break originally designed to allow families to bring in the harvest. The harvest on this town in the summer is tourist dollars and they are much sought after in the slower months.
I once suggested to my wife that we accent our gray colored California house in black and I got the anticipated reply in the form of a look that told the world she was wondering if she'd married a moron. I quite like the black look: In Latin America they call it Jamaica with the jay sounding like an aspiration of breath. They make tea out of it, what the heathen call "tea" anyway, and it tastes good though it tastes nothing like any leaf that came off an Assam tea bush. In Key West we look at the colors and call it good.
We moved our car and our walk to Seminary Street and while Cheyenne poked around in the grass looking for good things to eat, poor malnourished dog, I looked up at the sky looking for the promise of rain.
"Looks like rain," said Winnie-The-Pooh.

"Like hell it does," said Eeyore.

I think the pessimistic Eeyore has it right.

Reading The Water

I don't know how it happened but my wife, woman of many talents and skills, added reading the water to her list of life accomplishments suddenly one day when we were out sailing years ago. This was odd to me because if you give my wife a chart or a map she will look at it as though it were printed in Babylonic cuneiform and she will throw her hands up in the air and look cross and say tartly: "You know I can't read a map" as though I'd caught her out in an act of humiliating illiteracy.But then, one day, we were sailing our shoal draught catamaran in some lonely exotic place and she overrode my line of approach to the anchorage and confidently steered us through the shallow waters. Bizarre but true, and she still doesn't know which way is up on a map. Reading the water is an enormously useful skill in certain waters even for those of us who can read a chart.
With the sun overhead or in front the water presents a uniform sheen and the stranger to those waters will anchor safely and wait for clear skies and the correct angle of the sun because if the sun is above and behind your line of travel tropical shallows reveal themselves:
In the Florida Keys major channels and approaches to most canals harbors and docks are marked either by local entities informally or properly by the US Coastguard with markers that make it hard to run aground. However if you want to wander the back country and you own a boat too heavy to push off a sand bar to deep water, and on the water as elsewhere in th US bigger is always better in some people's minds, you need to read the water to go exploring.The general rule is to stay away from land even if "land" is simply mangroves growing out of the water, because most places in the Keys the bottom is regular and shoals evenly the closer you get to land. However if all you had to do was keep your distance from dry land and mangroves it would be too easy.
Colors indicate the kind of bottom while shades and the sharpness of the edges of the contrasting colors indicate the likely depth. Bright white is shallow, yellow isn't always shallow and black can be sea grass most often in the Keys which you don't want to tear up ever. Black can also be rock or coral which can be nasty.
Just to be confusing black can sometimes be the shadow of a cloud covering the sun and nasty coral heads like these move as the wind shifts the clouds... In the Bahamas I have sailed the minefields of coral heads and it can get quite interesting even in a two foot draft catamaran with the propeller safely pulled up out of the water. Coral heads, which show as crisp black spots are rare in the Keys unfortunately as they make excellent aquariums where fish like to gather. In the picture below the black smudge is most likely sea grass but if one were in the Bahamas, home of the world's clearest seawater it could be a deep coral head.The channel toward the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico below is through the dark patch though running aground in the white stuff would most likely be a grounding on sand. Bad for the driver's ego and any bottom paint on the boat but not necessarily awful if you do it on a rising tide and while not traveling very fast.
Anywhere birds can stand is generally too shallow for boats. These cormorants are on a dead tree which obviously could mean they are in deep water but judging by the mottled colors I wouldn't bet on it.
And there is the reward dead ahead. A thin strip of yellow under the bushes indicated a proper beach.With the lack of markers and the complexity of several passes I doubt the Florida Keys back country will get over populated for a while. Especially as you have to hit bottom from time to time to learn to read the water properly and that can be most unnerving.

Like A Bird In Flight

Dinner at Salute is always a welcome night out but this time it was not at our suggestion.We arrived at Higgs beach in daylight on a perfect Spring evening in Key West. I have no doubt that for many from Up North the temperature and the warmth of the evening air would have constituted summer and perhaps too warm but we all appreciated the perfect mix of low humidity and cool breeze at the beach front table.
It was an evening when I was introduced once again to the art of drawing out the waitress. Sydney suddenly sat up like a cat whose tail has been trodden upon and when the young woman approached with the formulaic "Anything else I can ge...?" he pounced on the offending bland syllables and started a rant that deserved a recording device to do it justice. Sounding like a disappointed Sergeant Major on the parade ground he demanded to know why we weren't deserving of real feelings from our server. "Giving us the corporate line," was one quotation that stuck in my anti-corporate brain. Which was funny because not ten minutes earlier the owner of the place, the fabulously successful Richard Hatch stopped by the table to receive plaudits from the frequent fliers soaring round the table and they were suitably hail-fellow-well-met with the source of the corporate greetings that had so offended the delightful Sydney. Deborah put her head in her hands with a hissed "Oh Sydney!" and I sat and looked straight ahead trying not to remember similar scenes from my childhood when my wretched father wanted to smoke in public where it was not allowed. The waitress was brilliant and in some manner that I missed she deflected it all and took the stage. Sydney sat back triumphant, a bland evening service at table had been salvaged and as the architect he deserved our thanks and he knew it. It was almost as though April First had come round again and Sydney and Rhiannon had been in collusion on the whole stage set up.
From Up North on the East Coast some six or more years ago Rhiannon, named for a Fleetwood Mac song, joined her father on his South African built Lyle Hess designed Channel Cutter and sailed to Key West, like a bird in flight living up to the character whose burden she now bears for life. He died, she stayed and lives on with his memory enshrined in her boat still docked on Stock Island. Time for photographs all round amidst the merriment. "Do you plan to stay in Key West?" I asked, wondering if travel by sail might be in her future. She looked down at me archly: "I married a Conch," she said simply. "Whaddya think?" Sydney twinkled at me. "Could have gone either way," I said, once again speaking my mind and wishing I hadn't. "I wish I had the nerve to do that." Deborah looked at me startled as though such withdrawal from the field of combat were an option. My wife never ceases to be astonished that making scenes in public is not my cup of tea at all.
Some people want to know the name of the people waiting at table and their life stories- me? I over tip and mutter the usual little prayer "there but for the grace of god go I" and shuffle off back to my privacy as fast as my little legs will carry me. The fact is I walk in awe of people like Sydney who can stage manage a moment like the conductor of an orchestra but a conductor who leads without any sheet music to direct the outcome. I hope before I die I can pull off a treat as he did at Salute. The Pasta Carbonara was just fine too, thank you for asking.

Glee Garden

The Community Garden is still growing three years after it was started behind May Sands School on United and Leon Streets by Green Living and Eneregy Education and the school district.I went by to see how they cope with beginning of the hot season but there's a padlock on the gate which I suppose is a measure of the garden's success. If I lived in town I would be glad to have this knowledge at my beck and call because growing stuff in the Keys is not easy.When I was sailing through the Bahamas I came across a government scheme (damn those socialists!) whereby locally grown vegetables were sold by the box at Government docks on each island that produced any. Farming in the Bahamas in the old days was a matter of finding holes in the limestone rocks where leaves and organic material had drifted and composted and settlers started planting. I mention it because with similar topography the Keys also don't have enough dirt for widespread growing though God knows they tried really hard when first emigrants settled in these islands.I have found self watering Earthboxes to be very effective for my scale of growing but the season is about over and because seasons are backwards in the Keys it is about time to pack up the dirt and turn one's thoughts to salt water and swimming. Next year I must plant some sunflowers as they are my wife's favorite.The locavore movement swapping the United States is not an easy one to keep up when living in the Keys. South Florida farms participate in Community Supported Agriculture and will send boxes of food south but we haven't yet latched onto a program that works for us. That the GLEE garden works at May Sands School is testament to the fact that no mater how unpromising the soil some seed will grow anywhere with enough care!