Friday, January 31, 2020

Simonton Street

I view my photographs and the words that accompany them a diary of my life to some extent and to a lesser extent as a record of the Lower Keys at this period.I don't go everywhere obviously and I am no longer a reporter so I am exempt  from feeling an obligation to be on the spot, but I can't stop myself from reading the newspaper. 
If there were any doubt that development taken to the limit is the goal House Bill 587 should put that to rest. This legislation apparently not supported by the Keys (Republican) representative offers to ease hurricane restrictions on development to...do what exactly? Save the state money they say.
It goes like this: development has reached maximum capacity in the Keys and the way that's calculated is how fast can the authorities evacuate the islands, supposing say a hurricane is imminent, and the magic number till now has been 24 hours. That's why you hear the order for a "mandatory evacuation" before the arrival of a hurricane and they start with tourists and residents of mobile homes. After 24 hours (the magic number!) they order other residents to evacuate. You can choose not to leave but in choosing to stay over a mandatory evacuation order you have to know there will be no help during the storm. That's what mandatory evacuation means, and emergency services don't respond when winds reach gale force because the hospital closes down and there is no medical support for first responders injured during a hurricane. Creating a  storm proof emergency room should be high on the list of priorities as the authorities now want to extend the evacuation time to 30 hours.
Extending evacuation times by six hours doesn't sound like a big deal but it changes everything. What it means is the population of the Keys will be allowed to increase as soon  as the "carrying capacity" of the highway increases by 25 %. The rationale is that owners of empty lots that cannot build on them will demand compensation from the government for their land that suddenly has no value and to avoid making the payouts the state legislature is creating a  new reality ion the Keys with I have no doubt, lots of unforeseen consequences. 
There is a pervasive air of unreality in these discussions about development and evacuations and storms and sea level rise and insurance rates and flood plains and all of it. I don't understand the logic of increasing the population density, slowing the evacuation times while at the same time raising alarms about the increasing likelihood of storm related damage to existing structures. And you know the people who choose to ignore these obvious warning signs will be at the front of the line blaming anyone but themselves for their poor planning and decision making when disaster strikes.
I read in the paper about residents without mortgages who carry no flood insurance. My mind boggles. The bald truth is f you can't afford the insurance you can't afford to live here. You can gamble your future right now but when you lose you will have to take your losses like a grown up. One resident told the Citizen he plans to invest the equivalent of the insurance premiums to self insure effectively. Doing that and thinking it's smart makes the assumption there will be no chance of a serious storm in the immediate future. The whole point of insurance os to pool the risk, not to rely on no damage for along time ahead.
I have no stake in all this as we decided not own real estate in the Keys and to rent  after we got rid of our Ramrod Key home. We lucked out with a  fantastic landlord and a very quiet neighborhood on Cudjoe Key in a house that rents for an extremely modest $1600 a month. You will pay at least twice that if you can find anything in Key West. But all this real estate is seriously at risk and the decision to own in the Keys has to be accompanied by a  sensible evaluation of your aversion to risk and loss.
If the changes are made and the state legislative majority is firmly Republican with a Republican (though very sensible) Republican governor all studying a proposal made by a  member of the majority caucus so... Our only hope is if Governor DeSantis looks at this idea and says it's nuts. He's an odd fish is the governor as he toes the party line on national politics but he's a Floridian at home, moving to spend money on preservation and the environment and talking to people with out pushing the party line within his state. He reminds of Democratic Governor Graham of fond memory, a mild mannered Dixiecrat wiped out by the Reagan revolution in the South. I fear the pressure to allow development in the Keys will push back the evacuation times and the difficulties created by this decision will be pushed out of sight into some future timeline. As usual.
By the time this madness gets into the pipeline I will be retired. It would be nice if there was somewhere to come back to for my end of life, especially as the new old folks home on Duck Avenue is getting taken over by the county which should give it some longevity but the crowding looks set to reach Hong Kong proportions before I will have finished driving around. Being evacuated as a not-so-spry old man doesn't sound too appealing. Especially like this.

Sammy Creek

I wondered how long it would take to bring Sammy Creek back after this place was ravaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.  Not long at all and every time I drive by on South Sugarloaf I hope to see no cars parked at the entrance gate. 
There are picnic tables under shade and a small boat launch ramp so you can walk your kayak to the water's edge by the bridge and cast off into the strong currents of the creek.
It's a gravel pit with some flower beds and lots of light. I really like it here.
I usually get bored long after Rusty starts whining, staring at me wondering what I see in this small sliver of quiet space. I overexposed the cormorant taking off but I liked the mistake. Leaping Into The Void:
Coconut palms go into an altered state when viewed in black and white. I set the red filter and use the tungsten white balance to create the black sky and the sun shining on the fronds creates the contrast.
Ignore the dog staring at me and pouting. He'll be fine.
They bore holes into the coconut palm trunks to inject an antidote to lethal yellowing disease which tends to kill them. Yes I know it sounds  like a cartoon joke but the cure while expensive does work if you want ornamental coconut palms in your life.
Oh and the texture of the palm trunks reminds me of elephants. In black and white pictures.
I saw the occupants of a car with a northern licence plate hauling picnic apparatus toward the gate as Rusty and I were leaving. We got out just in time.
Light on water:
It looks like summer but feels like winter. A Florida winter of course with a light cool breeze and temperatures near 80 and no humidity (that I could feel). 
It felt like summer in that we were alone.
Red mangroves. The bubbles mark the tidal current flowing merrily out to sea. There are no fresh water creeks in the Keys so a creek is a saltwater passage between mangroves. Not a river.
I heard a rumbling noise so I in turn rumbled to my feet and stopped rubbing Rusty's stomach to snatch a photo. "Priorities," I told the dog who is notorious in my life for looking away whenever I take up the infernal device. I pointed the camera up the creek as I listened to the rumbling which had turned into a hull slapping sound as the boat came down the waterway.
There is something unappealing to me about being all bundled up on a  boat. I convinced my wife when we got married in 1994 that we wanted to honeymoon in Grenada, good idea, on a boat, unknown quantity. She took to it fortunately but I discovered rain at twelve degrees north in the Caribbean is just as cold and nasty as it is on California's foggy cold coastline. I like ambient heat on my boat.
Besides which driving a  center console is inherently boring to me.. It's like driving a car only at half the speed with no of the comfort. I am not holding a  majority position here I might add. They had fishing rods so I assume the plan was to stalk innocent fish and hook them to their death by suffocation in the bottom of the boat. Also not my cup of tea. I go fishing at Publix and Winn Dixie.
Rusty is quite partial to a can of tuna from time to time but raw fish would be survival food for him, on a par with iguana or rodents. I have this idea that in the even of a zombie apocalypse my survival tool is my dog. We would go feral together eating iguana and hiding in the bushes from the zombies. It would be great.
It would probably be ghastly but Rusty survived by his wits and I expect he could do it again. I prefer the genteel middle class life of wandering around, taking pictures and going home to tea and a nap. He seems to prefer it too.
It was a pleasant afternoon at Sammy Creek. We need to do it again when I get a day off sometime in the distant future.  Alongside photography Rusty thinks overtime is a  really bad idea. I can't say I disagree but I wonder how he will cope having me around all the damn time when I retire.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

On Golden Pond

I am no great fan of sunrise and sunset pictures as they seem to offer nothing new and others with more dedication and money and tripods and patience will stand in a halo of mosquitoes and no-see-ums to do what I occasionally try to do with a quick stop and much reliance on in camera image stabilization. And then there are the days that are the exception to the rule. Yesterday took me completely by surprise.
I had posted on Instagram a sunset picture I snapped on Blimp Road while waiting for Layne to bring Rusty to a dusk walk we had planned after our days at work. Standing there with the little camera in hand, an LX100 if you care, I popped a snapshot. It's such a small camera I thought it would be nice and unobtrusive instead its difficult to use such that I am trying to come to terms with it like a bear balancing an egg in his paws, and I got this:
The stillness of the waters among the Cudjoe key mangroves isn't that hard to capture, no filters necessary and the colors are easily reproduced by slowing shutter speed and relying on a tripod or the magnificent Panasonic IBIS -In Body Image Stabilization - and there you are...a crowd pleaser no doubt and puts the lie to my not photographing the sun near the horizon. Which makes my sunrise walk at Boca Chica Beach even more mysterious. I like to stop there on the way to Key West with Rusty on my days off. It is a well known hang out and he enjoys trailing other dogs who were there before him, so we go and he runs and I look around.  The morning promised not much for me, but Rusty was happy so we wandered.
In the world of digital photography serious photographers wander at some great length to find the ideal spot and they measure and pace and observe and peruse. Me? This whole digital thing is free, no more do I worry about film and the cost of developing or the decidedly old fashioned concept of "waste." The camera is durable, I know that after I fell on it two weeks ago and bruised my chest horribly; the batteries are rechargeable and the image sensor is good for the life of the camera. I love pixellated photography, even if modern digital cameras are fearsomely complicated and modern digital photography critics are fond of enlarging everything to exasperation to find all your flaws mercilessly exposed in a picture  they like to expand by  feet to find soft pixels and out of focus strands...Come one, come all:
So I just fiddle with the shutter speed and the exposure setting for the camera and what was a pale imitation of a sunrise suddenly is captured in fractions of a second and held in a new shade of color. Up the beach a solitary angler was trying to kill fish while further down in the other direction a late comer, by my standards (!) was ambling her lap dogs on their daily appearance at Boca Chica. To all intents and purposes we were alone, each of us on our piece of beach in the Florida Keys, no cruise ships, no five dollar stores, no street cleaners, no radios, no conversation or footsteps even. 
Rusty was having fun so I decided to emulate his very proper attitude and managed to mess up some exposures like the one above, but it didn't matter, I'll have another go in a week or a month, I'm not selling anything or meeting a client's expectations. Easy come, easy go. Here's another failure. The focus is all wrong.
Let's see. There are more Keys Clich├ęs. Here's one:
Note the square format. I cropped the other sailboat out as it was closer to the rising sun and messing up the shading of that absurd shade of orange. This sailboat with its anchor light shining at the masthead, per regulations is now centered in the picture which by the Rule of Thirds is not correct. To increase interest we stick the object of the photo off to one side, except sometimes rules are meant to be broken. I also cropped the picture as mentioned and some photographers abhor cropping. You crop in camera they say, meaning the composition remains as you frame it in the viewfinder. However I am a sharpshooter and sometimes the contents of the frame gets away from me and some stray element needs to be removed.So I crop as I like and as the pixels will support.
 I had heard that the distant beach portion has been closed, that place where the road ended before Hurricane Wilma wiped out the coastline and so it is. Rather than put up a fence and secure their property from trespassers we get signs prohibiting access to all of us indiscriminately. The power poles mark the path of the old highway so how it has now become private property of the the US Government I'm sure I wouldn't know. But we live in dictatorial times so the nude beach fanatics and the gay rendezvous of old are now off limits. I was no participant in either but neither bothered me near as much as this appropriation of a pleasant coastal walk. 
Recently the newspapers reported incursions on the Navy Bases in Key West by apparent Chinese spies, as bizarre as that sounds. Indeed a federal magistrate hearing the first case had some pretty harsh words about the lack of security at the base entrance as reported in the paper. These signs were put up before those incidents were reported but whether they are a response or just a decision to not bother with fencing I don't know. I don't care either. For an occasional beach walker like myself it is a shame not a life altering closure.
In the bad old days of no Internet and film photography the old Highway One used to pass right on the base on the way to Key West. As absurd as that sounds Boca Chica Naval Air Station was wide open. You can see the old entrance if you turn off Highway One south on Rockland Key where the side road turns it will point you right at a gate onto the base now used only by trucks for awkwardly large deliveries. That used to be the road to key West before 1982.  
Now the restrictions on life in the Keys come one after the other and it is a shame. I remember swimming at the submarine pens north of US One which were closed a good few years ago in response they said to some irresponsible behavior by people camping and barbecuing in that lovely wilderness at Mile Marker Eight. Now closed for good. 
But we should not be downcast, there's still lots to see and enjoy and the bars and shops downtown aren't going away for those whose vacations are limited to Old Town. I still find places to explore with the indefatigably curious young Rusty.
This one below I deliberately messed up with the in-camera white balance, a digital adjustment that can drive you nuts on a modern camera. If you set it wrong the shading of your picture will go haywire, but in this case I wanted to make the sky ridiculously blue as the background for the stick drawing of the tree. So I used a cold indoor setting to give the picture a blue tint. Works for me, for fun.
 I saw a rather dismal little flag drooping in the still air, a spot of shadow on a dark morning. So I fired up the flash, a feature I rarely use to illuminate the object of the picture. Not really a success but I thought it was worth a try.
Finally I got back to the car with a bunch of pictures, a few thoughts and a happy dog. Our trip to Key West was cancelled by the driver (me) when we got to the highway and saw a long line of slow moving cars plodding toward Key West. I had the option of turning right and heading home so I did. Eight o'clock in the morning in the modern suburban Keys is hell on wheels. All the people who work in the city but can't afford to live there end up in a humongous traffic jam the last ten miles of the commute. I count myself lucky my shift starts at six in the morning and ends at six at night. Most days the road is empty on the way in and traffic is light on the way home when anxious commuters push the slowpokes to maintain at least the speed limit.
The word from the camper builder is that our Promaster should be delivered by late February and we are in the final stages of planning the interior details, which are really the province of my wife. Visiting Boca Chica Beach reminds me how lucky I have been to live here even in the gloaming of the bustling town Key West still has the reputation of being: quirky, artistic and free spirited. Don't think about spending the night in this obvious spot as the complaints have spurred frequent patrols and camping here is decidedly no longer allowed. One other thing I was never interested in doing myself but for those who might be that small adventure has been closed down. The beach is open and patrolled from 6 am to 11 pm. Night patrols are frequent and merciless.
Here's hoping the rump of Boca Chica beach stays open for a good long while to the public in daylight with no further restrictions. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Pines Park

Something strange has happened on South Roosevelt where winter would usually see lots of homeless squatters making day camps at the picnic tables. As it was Rusty and I had the park to ourselves.
It was a lovely day at South Roosevelt with a  fresh breeze and bright sunshine.
Everyone was out enjoying the weather.
The only reason I can see that Pines Park has lost favor with the day campers is thanks to the new parking lots. They have been neatly paved and edged so you can no longer roll your car into the park under the trees and use the picnic table as an extension of their vehicles.
Now that the place is clean and tidy and empty I shall come back a little more often.
The views are splendid. You can see why this was a favorite coastal hang out in Key West.

As usual the shrimpers were trying to duck out of the bad weather and the winds really were blowing.



A couple of tourists across the newly refurbished parking lots between Pines Park and East Martello.
The tower is intact and a museum. The West Martello is a bit of a wreck as it was used for target practice by gunners at Fort Zachary in the 19th century when there was a clear sight line across the south end of Key West.