Thursday, October 21, 2021

Sunset Walk,

Some pictures from Rusty's favorite mangrove walk along Dorn Road in Middle Torch. Someone else will have to walk it now, or most likely nobody.

Lessons From A Genoese

After we decided on an outline of a retirement plan five years ago and moved into a rental house on Cudjoe Key from our home on Ramrod we settled back in to another very quiet suburban life. I worked nights for much of the time coming and going like a vampire, sleeping by day and grinding toward the much desired retirement. After I fell into disfavor with a new boss and was pushed to days by office politics I still found myself leaving home before dawn and in winter coming home well after dark. The punishment of day shift suited me so there I stayed, not least because the architect of my banishment to days didn't want me back on nights.  
This reversal led to me living more daylight time on my street and I have long felt lucky to be in a quiet neighborhood of people who for the most part go to work and keep pretty much to themselves. The most jovial and noisy character is a handy Cuban American who lives to help his neighbors, a trait most in evidence after Hurricane Irma wrecked our neighborhood. The storm came to the Keys right up Spanish Main with 140 mile per hour winds.
Our immediate neighbors have been rather odd people, a New England couple who bought the house as a retirement place and who visited from time to time and spent their visits obsessively cleaning and tiding and bringing order to their lot. My wife the jovial extrovert invited them round to drinks but if looks could kill they would have sizzled her and her invitation! They remarked they don't touch alcohol, to which my irrepressible wife replied perhaps? But even she withered under their  stern puritanical stares. Well, that didn't go so well. We stayed frostily apart.
The New England wife has never warmed up but she has been slightly undermined by her husband who reminds me of one of those characters from a sort of Leave It To Beaver cast of characters, the hen pecked husband or some such. He talks to us when we swim in the canal and she doesn't seem to be around. He talked of his own swimming exploits until someone told him crocodiles inhabit the mangroves outside the canal. I find the constant barrage of neighborly negativity in one's life will kill off hopes and dreams faster than any another cause. He stopped swimming while we continue to paddle in the increasingly cold Fall waters. Normally we try to start swimming with the daylight time change in Spring and stop around the winter time change coming up next week after we are gone.
Then weirdly the neighbor came by and asked if we minded them cutting down the coconuts on the trees on the property line. This was very odd because last year they called the landlord to ask him if they could trim them half way to extinction and he called us in a weird game of telephone. This time he came directly and I shrugged and said no problem, we're gone on Monday. And after he digested all that (José up the street knew but this guy was apparently out of the loop) he asked, as they do inevitably, where are you going? I sighed as I don't want to sound evasive but I really have very little idea how to explain an open ended journey. Namibia? Cairo? Belen? Samarkand?
This part of the conversation always sounds a bit weird to my ear. I say we are taking off in the van and they say where to? And I'm damned if I know how to reply. I try to temper my answer to the plausibility of the answer to the listener's ears. The short answer is Mexico for the winter, Alaska next summer and maybe South America after that. Tons of people do that, and you can check the Overland sites on Facebook to see the barrage of chatter on the subject. This guy shocked me more than a bit after he heard my reply and because I didn't want to sound evasive all I said was: Patagonia.
He looked puzzled. Where's that? I've never heard of it. Oh I said trying not to sound like I was talking to the class dunce, the Southern end of South America, realizing, because I am slow on the uptake, that I had just overshot his geographical capacity. Glad I didn't say Tierra del Fuego or something obscure. Ushuaia perhaps? The capital of Antarctic Argentina and (putative) capital of the Argentine Falklands. 
Because he had no idea what I was talking about the conversation drifted off and I was spared more talk. I only talk about my hopes among friends, people like Carol who has an ambition to visit every island she can, and who dragged my wife to Easter Island, followed by sailing on a Gulet in Turkey among other travels. Carol could be a candidate to accompany Layne to Vietnam, a country that doesn't interest me and which I would like to palm off on a friend as travel companion. Carol knows where Patagonia is and can appreciate the desire to see it.
I talk about it on this page because it is what I want to see, and it is in part why I am leaving the Keys. I know that every plan is just that and any number of things can derail them, injury, illness, plague, mechanical failure, loss of nerve, fear and so forth. But this page is the page to dream and hope.
I find it disturbing that geography and history, things that interest me and seem commonplace can be so obscure. I have my own vast cultural black holes, lacking as I do any profound interest in baseball statistics or popular music. I struggled with sports when I was younger and over breakfast with my buddy Bill, in Santa Cruz in the 1980's we read the San Francisco Chronicle and he quizzed me on the sports pages when I wanted to read Herb Caen's three dot columns...Many breakfasts we ate at the Catalyst nightclub (oddly, a breakfast place too) while I tried to sort Meat Packers from Raiders and such.
Despite his coaching I never really got the sports thing under my belt. Webb Chiles, himself an inveterate traveler pointed out I would do better  boning up soccer stats to prepare myself for south of the border than being up on politics and history, and no doubt he is right. However I am what I am, and history and geography have kept my interest alive in the world over the decades. Not knowing that Patagonia even exists would be a sin in my religion.
And yet people get through life quite cheerfully and successfully with no clue about Magellan, von Humboldt, Vancouver or Cook. Half of me wishes I had been born to the great age of European exploration, despite the dangers and discomforts and if you read my description of the van, the very lengthy description, you know discomfort is not really my thing. I'd give up four wheel drive for a plush bed and a portable potty any day. Indeed that's exactly what I did. 
I took to the sidelines on Columbus Day while other people wrestled publicly and drearily with the concept of Indigenous People's Day. I used to think of these holidays as Hallmark holidays but nowadays I move agilely with the times and think of them as Facebook Holidays. Everyone has an opinion and is happy to argue the toss with strangers, and then the whole historical mess is forgotten the next day with the next online drama.
Columbus was an adventurer and thus not given to administration and that makes him a worm. However we ourselves are living in a world where Hispaniola is a mess, and we treat the distress with about the same level of care as Columbus did. Indigenous People's Day? Sure we all want to celebrate that worthy cause but then bring up the notion of reparations and the tax watchers all come out armed to the teeth with indignation. I think I am despite appearances, getting older as I have less and less interest in boarding the nearest passing political bandwagon. 
Then my apparently well educated neighbor tells me the rest of the world is a mystery to him and I wonder why anyone worries about Columbus Day. With all this public anguish in the air I do what my Italian ancestors would have done: I say a Mea Culpa and pass the collections plate to my neighbor.  I am neither religious nor spiritual but I do admire the pursuit of either by my well meaning neighbors:

From Wikipedia:

Unity describes itself as a worldwide organization offering an approach to Christianity which teaches a positive approach to life, seeking to accept the good in all people and events. It began as a healing ministry and healing has continued to be its main emphasis. It teaches that all people can improve the quality of their lives through thought.

Unity describes itself as having no particular creed, set dogma, or required ritual. It maintains that there is good in every approach to God and in every religion that fulfills someone's needs. It holds that one should focus not on past sins but on the potential good in all.

Unity emphasizes spiritual healing, prosperity and the curing of illness by spiritual means, but it does not reject or resist medical treatments. It is accepting of the beliefs of others.
Taking off like this into the void makes me appreciate the intense bravery, perhaps merely lust for wealth of those early explorers. They must have had balls of steel, lacking every modern device to find their way. The fact that Columbus never did locate the continental United States or Mexico and that he always figured he was in India, a land of myth, makes his voyages even more remarkable to me. That they could plunder, rape and murder in the name of God gives one some idea of how warped the human mind can become at the prospect of wealth. 
And here I am fussing about the size of my tires while rejecting satellite phones and carefully packing clean clothes, micro-sized electronics and long life foods that Columbus could never have dreamed of in his philosophy. Maps?  He didn't need no stinking' maps. Not least because there weren't any...
In a physical sense I know where I am going more or less as I love reading modern maps and charts. In the more complicated world of inner journeys it's all up in the air and thus rather exciting. I'm pretty sure I know where Patagonia is, and I have an idea what it may be like, and I wonder how shall I cope with wind and rain and cold and gray and summers like winters, but I may come away a better person for the struggle I hope.
I am not fond of killing for work or sport or even as a concept, but I know I'd make a dismal administrator. I took what I was given to do at work by people I viewed as crazily ambitious set in judgement above me because I knew I didn't want their jobs especially as the work seemed to make them crazy. In no way could I have run the dispatch center filled with angry personalities and drama queens. I kept my head aimed at the damned pension. I have no way of knowing how badly I might have fared trying to run a colony in a New World, but I doubt I'd have had the nerve to jump off from Spain bound for God knows where in the first place. In an age where cheerful Mexico puts the fear of death into most North Americans I find their ability to criticize Columbus rather laughable. Perhaps to be a true exploiter/administrator you need to be self centered and fixated and thus cruel. Most of us aren't any of that.
I know wherein I shall suffer on the road, seeing the abandoned dogs. Thats about my level of tolerance for human cupidity and cruelty. After that it all becomes a blur. My father in law preferred not to travel to avoid seeing children mired in poverty with no futures and not much hope. Harold wasn't stupid. From the perspective of a man on the brink all I can see right now is the bravery of Columbus, not the awfulness. I'll get back to you on that when I get back myself.