Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mangrove Rusty

To live in the Florida Keys, this group of islands said to number 1700 total specks of land, you have to accept certain things as ineluctable truths, one of them being that the topography is never going to change. This isn't earthquake country, or earth slide country, nor will volcanoes spew more land into the ocean. Around here the only likelihood is that later this century rising tides will make these islands uninhabitable. Meanwhile we have this:

And we have dogs. Rusty doesn't worry himself too much about rising tides. When the land runs our or gets too wet he avoids the problem. He enjoys the cold the few times we have traveled into frosty country and he likes woods and hills but in the mangroves he runs like the wind.  Places that you think would confound a double jointed snake, my Carolina Dog slips through with ease.

I walk the trails and he criss-crosses my path occasionally allowing me to spot his big curved tail furry like a banner riding through the bushes. And these bushes are what constitute woods in the Florida Keys, lumps of limestone and coral that can barely support saplings never mind majestic stands of trees. And I discovered recently not everyone knows  what a  mangrove looks like.

These are the roots of the red mangrove, the creepy feral jungly mangrove that everyone I thought, had heard of or at least seen in the movies. They propagate by dropping seed pods into salt water or by walking their roots across the ground then drilling down as they go. Fearsome stuff because these roots will close the trail eventually:

I was at work and I got a call from a national crisis support hotline reporting a  client, said to be in Key West was thinking about committing suicide. It was one of those hours-long pursuits trying to figure out a location for the wandering lost soul and pairing him up with a searching police officer. In the end he was fine and the story went away like so many 911 calls do, into the vault of my memory. However one feature stuck in my head so much so I determined to write an essay on the subject.

One of the crisis counselors called back with an update to advise us the lost client told them rather vaguely he was on a beach on North Roosevelt in the mangroves. A beach? On the boulevard? In the mangroves?  Okay then, we sent officers off to hunt for the depressed man. Meanwhile the counselor on the line asked me tentatively: Does that make sense? Well I said there isn't any beach on North Roosevelt but there are clumps of mangroves. Mangroves she said interrogatively, I was wondering that they are... I wanted to package up some of the leaves of the red mangrove, the ones that turn salt water into fresh for the plant to use and send them to her wherever she was. Somewhere mangrove-free apparently.

There are times when I wish I had something other than mangroves and their cousins the buttonwoods to look at. I was looking back at pictures of our road trip to Quebec and Vermont, Rusty checking out the St Lawrence River...
...and running through the deciduous woods of the Isle d'Orleans...
I know he likes these wildernesses, these familiar South Florida landscapes:

But I wonder if he misses the lush landscapes of the north, like the cider orchards outside the City of Quebec:
There again beauty is where you find it.

And we enjoy our walks together even in these mysterious mangrove forests. Which as you can see are as flat as the proverbial pancake:

A well earned gin and tonic for the dog:

And cold tap water for me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Big Pine Key Marina

There used to be a marina at the end of Big Pine Key nearest No Name Key. And there still is after a fashion. This place is up and running with a small office and above ground fuel tanks and room for a few boats. It never was a big facility.
 Hurricane Irma wrecked a lot of Big Pine last September and this marina was flattened. Completely razed by winds of a Category Four strength, somewhere near 150 miles per hour around here.
This is how the marina used to look, and I took this picture a decade ago. It never changed much, a typical friendly convenience store bait shop and fuel dock all roiled into one. I stopped by here once to refuel my boat. It was more conveniently reached by land if you had visited the nearby No Name Pub. It had a claim to fame once that had nothing to do with it being destroyed by an infamous storm.
The bridge to No Name Key, which sits next to the marina was the setting for a slightly odd movie which came out in 1994. The synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

In this quirky drama a trio involved in a self-contained world revolving around a remote tollbooth in the Florida Keys. Jack, an aspiring policeman, works in the tollbooth. There he dreams of his new career and of starting a new life in Miami with his high school sweetie Doris. She works at the Gator Gas fuel depot down the road. She daydreams about her estranged father Leon and takes care of her mother Lillian who suffers from chronic depression. When not caring for her mom, Doris sees Dash, a bait salesman. Leon suddenly returns. A new toll collector, Vic, comes to the booth. He is a suspicious character and soon the state police are carefully watching him.

And in the movie there are glimpses of this place as it used to be. Always changing in the Keys, all the time. Who knows what changes this next storm season will bring.
The Bridge to No Name Key from the seat of my Bonneville. This hasn't changed.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Rusty At Night

For some reason I had two nights off in a row  so naturally on Friday morning I woke at four in the ready to get up and behave as though I was a night person.  Luckily when I have these night urges I am not alone and my trusty Carolina Dog was ready at my side urging me out the door. We ended up in front of Turtle Kraals a half hour later, me with my camera, Rusty with his powerful nostrils. We were happy.
There was no one around. It was just perfect for the two of us as I pointed my FZ300 at this and that and Rusty trotted around sniffing and chasing chimera. There is a sense of easy companionship  with my dog on our walks and at that hour in the city that feeling gets exaggerated by the lack of anyone else in the metropolis.
Rusty never ceases to amaze me. He reads my mind, waits on the street corners, avoids people who don't like dogs and says a cheerful hello to the ones that call him over. He stood watching cavorting drunks half a block away as they struggled with the front door to their rooms, sitting between me and them, waiting for silence to return and calm to prevail.
When I was riding my scooter in Jacksonville recently several other riders noticed my key ring which displayed a Mile Zero logo on it, a scooter warming gift from my wife. I was glad to have it to avoid losing the only key  I have to my slightly used Suzuki Burgman, but the other scooterists were  awed by Mile Zero. Mile Zero is a potent symbol;  check it out:
Can you find Waldo at Front and Duval at 4:45 in the morning? There are not many people left in Key West who are young enough and wealthy enough to be obnoxious on the street after the bars close. Key West rolls up the sidewalks before midnight most nights.
Ambling down Duval behind my hound I saw a shop selling Conch Pearls. Never heard of them but the Jewellery Editor has:

Pretty and pastel-hued, a conch pearl is a calcareous concretion produced by the Queen conch (pronounced “conk”) mollusc, which is a large, edible sea snail. Most often pink in colour and normally oval shaped, the finest examples display a wave-like “flame” structure on their surface and have a creamy, porcelain-like appearance and unique shimmer.
Unlike pearls harvested from oysters, conch pearls – like other naturally occurring pearls, including the Melo and Giant Clam – are non-nacreous, which means they are not made of nacre, the substance that gives traditional pearls their iridescent lustre. Therefore, they are not technically a pearl and are not considered to be “true pearls”, although they are still referred to as such.

Then I came across the newspaper racks and in the middle of the tourist tat and the venerable Citizen struggling to stay afloat, the billboard of the Blue Paper stood stolidly blaring scandal. There had been threats of its demise (again) but money flowed forth and the Blue irritant to the people in power is here for a while longer.
There was a time when I was required to dispatch officers to Big 'Uns, a ghastly name for a bar which used a pair of oversize breasts on a blonde bats-woman as its logo. So one would find oneself sending officers to that grotesquely named bar and feel awkward while doing it. They closed and I was grateful. Now we have Wet Willies. Is there no end to it? 
I was surprised to find a new bike shop discreetly located downtown, the offshoot of a successful store on Stock Island, promoters of the infamous Zombie Bike Ride. It's on their website so it must be true, and here it is, the downtown shop I had never previously noticed.
And at the end of an hour and fifteen minutes Rusty was satisfied. So was I and ready for bed. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Walking To A Garden

It was warm enough for Rusty to seek a little shade in the middle of our afternoon walk.  That was all part of my Cunning Plan. The wife and I were going to abandon Rusty that night and I wanted him ready for bed when the grown ups went into town for some adult entertainment. Besides the Red Barn Theater doesn't welcome dogs. 
The sun was riding low by the time we pulled up into our secret free parking spot next to the courthouse. Not so secret really but very convenient as most people prefer to pay to park at the more obvious post office lot nearby.
 We walked past the Tropic Cinema on our way to the Red Barn on Duval and I put this movie in my coming attractions list. 
Closer to our destination at the corner of Eaton and Duval this neatly abandoned pair of sandals demanded an answer to the existential question that we have all asked ourselves from time to time: Why are we here?  Damned if I know in answer to all such questions.
Duval Street looked peaceful at that pre-sunset hour. I suppose everyone was at the waterfront gawping at the horizon in imitation of Tennessee Williams who started the  whole sunset celebration thing.
Of course  the few present did make a good job of obscuring my view of the street but I sent an encouraging text to my colleagues at work. I told them there weren't many people around that they could expect a quiet night. I sent it with a sly grin on my night off.
The Red Barn was up to snuff as usual. The four speaking parts carried off their roles with aplomb and even though after the show my wife and I walked back to the car re-writing some of the plot we enjoyed the performance. And I have to say I really liked that there was no intermission as I hate the shuffling to get up and move around and all that stuff interrupting the flow of the plot.  I found a great review of the play itself in the Chicago Tribune, below.
Image result for native gardens poster red barn

The Karen Zacarias play "Native Gardens," is one of the very few contemporary comedies about racism, sexism, ageism and cultural privilege. It's a warm-centered and potentially empathetic piece, set in a pair of Washington-area backyards, that holds on to the fast-receding ideal that we should all be able to live next door to each other, whatever our background, age and politics, even as the play rightly observes that such harmony cannot exist without some willingness for self-examination, especially on the side of the fence where historical privilege has resided.
The metaphor of import is a garden, tended by Frank Butley, a former federal employee whose style of choice is the formal English garden: ivy, geraniums and the like, all carefully cultivated with the help of a little insecticide and the support of a loving fellow-Republican wife, aptly named Virginia.
When a new couple move in next door, a Chilean lawyer named Pablo Del Valle  and his American wife, Tania  a doctoral student with a kid on the way, initial over-the-fence encounters are friendly, even though Frank and Tania (who prefers the native wildflowers that Frank deems weeds) quickly figure out that they have very different conceptions of what should be in a garden, the proximate representation of the natural world being yet another thing on which Americans often fail to agree.
But things go awry when the Del Valle family finds out that Frank's precious blooms are on their land. The fence between the houses does not accurately reflect the boundary line. Things deteriorate from there
This is where things get tough to swallow — the Del Valles are oblivious to something that, in the real world, they would have known before they closed on the house, unless they had somehow not needed a mortgage. For the play to work, Zacarias needs urgency added to this discovery, so she creates a sudden party that the climbing Pablo wants to have to impress his bosses, which means that he needs a whole new fence to be constructed in a matter of a day or two (good luck with that in the real world).
Zacarias manages to treat everyone with a measure of empathy and compassion, and the show has some laughs and gently dispensed challenges.  Its good-spiritedness could not be more welcome as "Native Gardens" is a comedy planted in difficult, painful issues. But Zacarias is a populist and compassionate writer, and she finds a lot of political strength in those qualities.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Long Week, Short Week

By a quirk of fate whereby the city of Key West starts its pay period on a Monday my work schedule is seriously topsy turvy. And it's so complicated is my work schedule that I cannot easily explain it nor would you remember it if I laid it out for you on paper. The outcome is that one week I work many days and the next I work few. It is very odd and sometimes satisfying.
Eisenhower Drive. No more signs of hurricane damage.
I measure my weeks from Saturday to Saturday and on my "Long Week" starting today I only get Wednesday night off in the next period into the next Saturday. And then when the other shift takes up the slack I in turn will only work Wednesday and a brief four hour shift on Tuesday. One week on and one week almost off. It is an odd way of work but I have grown to enjoy both the hours spent working and those afternoons spent at home alone with my dog.
I have discussed this with my colleagues and we agree that going back to a normal 9 to 5  job five days a week would be difficult. My wife likes the schedule as paradoxically she figures we get more time together than if I worked day shift. Twelve hour shifts can seem daunting but every other weekend, assuming we are properly staffed more or less, I am off work from 6 am Saturday to 10 pm Tuesday when I go in for a short four hour shift followed by a full shift 6 pm to 6 am Wednesday night. As we work 12 hour shifts we have to tack on a  four shift to our three 12 hour shifts to make a forty hour work week Monday through Sunday. I told you it was complicated. Alpha and Bravo night shifts each work four hour shifts on every Tuesday night. I have been working this schedule for  about 12 years so what seems bizarre for most I accept  as normal.
Dispatchers in Key West live a work life between two worlds. We are civilian office workers hired by the city and represented by Teamsters. We work similar shifts to sworn police officers who are represented by a  police union and are something other than mere city workers. Yet we dispatchers share the peculiar nature of police work with the police. We deal with the paperwork of law enforcement and we are trained to talk to criminals and victims and witnesses and we handle the silent mayhem of the worst parts of modern life, suicides, thefts,cruelty anger and alcoholism. I have three years left before retirement and I look forward to not spending my waking hours dealing with these horrors. It strikes me as rather odd to imagine people working who don't think about these things while at work. For me it's just what you do...
Officers came by last week and passed on a bag of cookies donated by a local business. Lovely but the cookies were dropped off in a  bio-hazard disposal bag. It's the sort of bag bloody evidence or discarded body parts might be stored in prior to incineration. There was a moment where I stared at the bag but the chocolate chip cookies were delicious and Nick and I both enjoyed them thoroughly.  Anybody else might have had a surplus supermarket plastic bag in their car to haul found treasures. Police officers don't. 
We are getting updated active shooter training soon. I hope I never have to use it. It is a measure of how messed up things are -across the world not just here at home -  that it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that something like that could happen here, outside the orbit of big cities and big crimes. Every day I am glad for this job that keeps me in Key West and pays me well enough that I don't work about health insurance or pensions or holding down a second job. And yes I expect to be here during all of hurricane season hoping that the more likely scenario, a major storm doesn't feel the need to land here this year. I worry about that  a lot more than a mass shooting, but .

Friday, April 6, 2018

Houses And Boats

It's been a mixed bag the past few days. The weather has turned all summery with big puffy clouds and heat mixed in with sudden rain  tapering off quickly to windy dampness.  Hurricane season is two months away and the forecasters tell us it will be an average season with extra humidity from an overheated ocean. The implication is some region in the US is going to get creamed. I hope its not us.
I was talking to an acquaintance the other day and she told me of spending twelve days at home alone struggling to keep it together after Hurricane Irma. She broke down into tears at the memory. She's lucky as her home is intact. That are still many people between Key West and Islamorada who have not yet got their homes fixed. Insurance money has yet to arrive and skilled personnel to do the work aren't plentiful. Another category four storm will spell curtains for a lot of people barley hanging on.
Another acquaintance stopped me in the street to tell me of his great good fortune buying a house in Big Pine, epicenter of hurricane damage. He said it was cheap, whatever that means as it is damaged but it gives him a chance to own a foothold in paradise. I congratulated him as you do but his suggestion I might want to return to the burden of home ownership met with a hollow laugh from yours truly. Aside from horrendous fees and taxes to won a home there is the perennial hurricane threat which seems to be as real as anything and the return on investment gets to look a  bit scarce at my age.
He passed on a rumor that is making the rounds these days advising residents that new housing will no longer be built after 2020.  I have no idea where such a rumor might have originated but I cannot believe it to be true. Local government has struggled to preserve open space and build so called workforce housing and one thing we know is that if construction is banned anyone with a piece of build-able land will have all the grievances in the world to go to court and seek just compensation. I don't see Monroe County overcoming that obstacle no matter how delicious and provocative the rumor of a building moratorium.
A  former mayor buzzing around on his scooter in a town with no more idea of how to create workforce housing now than during his term in office. 
I turned away from the insoluble business of housing and looked to boats for solace for a while at Key West Bight. And I;m sorry but there are some plug ugly boats on the water.  I couldn't immediately tell which was the front or the back of this "cattle boat" designed to carry maximum passengers with no regards to beauty or tradition. In the end I realized this was the bow (the front) thanks to the presence of an anchor. And on the top deck the brodge where the crew steers the boat.
Walking the boardwalk in summer heat works for me and I plan to return this summer to enjoy the serenity of salt water whe it isn't getting turned into mist by extra powerful winds.
Sailboats restored order in my mind. Proper shapes, purposeful lines as they should be.