Thursday, September 5, 2019

Drowning Like Gentlemen

It is said the late Blondie Hasler when asked in 1956 why he chose not to carry communications gear to summon help when he decided to race single handed across the Atlantic told his interviewer; " I trust I should have the decency to drown like a gentleman and not bother the rescue people." I feel rather the same way during hurricane season in South Florida. Help us certainly, but let us at least attempt to take care of ourselves in hurricane season and minimally at least think for ourselves. Cudjoe Key after Hurricane Irma's 140 mph winds, September 10th 2017.
There is a part of me that is profoundly annoyed by this Dorian episode in Florida. It is perhaps in the nature of the most immediate forms of communication we live with these days that require drama and superficial involvement and empathy, but I think it's time we grew out of the dependence on social media to inject our humdrum routines with sparkle and a frisson of irrational fear-filled anticipation. Hurricane Dorian has been downgraded to a "mere" 110 mile per hour Category Two storm after devastating Abaco and Grand Bahama for days with 180 mph winds and massive seas. As these web photos show the devastation is total and life will not return to normal for years.
In the Keys Tuesday as a hurricane day with courts and schools closed and never any sign of a storm to lash these distant islands and so bad was the thoughts and prayers and the stay safe brigade on the Internet I retreated to my own world and carried on as usual. Gas disappeared in a spate of panic buying and plastic water bottles are piled high in homes and stores across the Keys. I understand the notion, rather tenuous at the moment, of being prepared but that shouldn't involve running around like headless chickens mixing metaphors and declaring the sky to be falling. If you choose to live at these latitudes a certain stoicism and best use of available scientific information is what is required. And empathy wasted on us is better spread to he other side of the Gulf Stream where things are profoundly desperate. Supplies will be helicoptered and parachuted to the displaced populations as harbors and airports and roads are all entirely wrecked. These Bahamians are the ones we need to focus on; they were always the target population of the vast storm that was Dorian.
 When authorities declare emergencies as a form of wizardry to limit liability they set people up to ignore future calls for evacuations and  careful examination of the facts. The National Hurricane center in Miami has the science and the understanding of how to use it when it comes to best hurricane predictions. All the illuminated screens and loud scary headlines base their graphics on the NHC forecasts and reports by the crews flying government planes into hurricanes to retrieve meteorological information. They even paid us a visit in the Keys a few years ago to show us what they do and it was fascinating:
The reality of hurricanes is that we none of us are ready for them. People without money cannot prepare and people with money fool themselves into thinking they need not prepare. And the cost of building hurricane resistant buildings is not to be trifled with. The result is widespread destruction but thanks to the Hurricane Center's indefatigable predictions very few lives are lost where evacuation is a possibility. The chance of dying in a catastrophe even like this one is low though I fear the death toll will be quite large in the Bahamas owing to the flat low lying topography, the magnitude of the storm and its duration and the inability of most of the residents to flee in advance of Hurricane Dorian. 
In the Florida keys the situation  is very different and death is a remote possibility. Prolonged stress and discomfort is the reality. Several thousand Puerto Ricans died in 2017, no one died in the Florida Keys. That's just the statistical reality. We need to calm down and study the odds and make our choices but doing so in an atmosphere of daytime television soap opera does no one any good. I recall in 2004 and  2005  hurricane fatigue set in in a  bad way and people got tired of evacuations that led to nothing but loss of income and tourists frightened off. Add to that a few years of no hurricane alerts and by the time Wilma came around there was a general reluctance to leave when leaving was the best thing to do.
I don't hold with hurricane bravado, the sort of noise people like to make before a storm announcing loudly their intention of staying no matter what and getting drunk. I would prefer for the community to find a middle path there too. Instead Northern Florida has to go through a while series of Dorian gyrations even though it looks much more likely the Outer banks are in for it next. And those islands are built on sand.
Above is a picture of my home the day after Hurricane Irma left the Keys in early September 2017. Seven foot flood waters wrecked the downstairs storage but the dwelling upstairs was untouched. My motorcycle and my car were destroyed, my Vespa I had ridden to work and stored at the police station. The long drawn out recovery period was tiresome and tedious and I am in no hurry to live through it again. Every day I ponder what happened across the waters and I trust we can get away with it for a few more years. Meanwhile we must live with good cheer and dignity and not allow ourselves to be spooked every time a storm approaches. I trust the scientists of the hurricane center more than I do the divination of chance or a benevolent providence.  When the scientists tell me to panic I shall so do but not before. Wind and rain are facts of life in the tropics and there's no point in living here if you can't handle them with a certain inner serenity. Every Paradise has its serpent. This one is ours.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Big Coppitt Boat Ramp

It's a big body of  water looking south from Highway One past Big Coppitt on your way to Big Pine Key exactly at Mile Marker 11. Every time I drive by I wanted to stop and stare.
Sometimes I do stop and pull my camera out. Lately it has been as flat as the proverbial millpond.
Exactly how I like it best. I find these views breathtaking. Rusty just roots around ignoring me.
Off to the right (the west more precisely) the waterfront homes in Big Coppitt are on the horizon.
Close by a  few boats live at anchor their owners living life ashore with cars parked on the shoulder. Affordable housing is where you find it and in all the years I have been commuting these residents have caused me no bother at all as I pass by. I find their boats picturesque.
This is how I enjoy the ocean. I know one is supposed to prefer dramatic coastlines and crashing waves, such as I saw every day in Santa Cruz California, but the tranquility of the shallow coastal waters of the Keys in summer is perfection.
Big Coppitt is at Mile Marker Ten, about 15 minutes from the middle of Key West is a bedroom community that offers slightly more affordable housing with the possibility of normal sized lots, houses on stilts (cheaper to insure) and easy water access with canals and ramps. The worst downside to me is the noise from jets flying overhead from neighboring Boca Chica. Its a political issue with people predictably screeching at each other about jet noise the pro faction chuntering about patriotism and the anti faction about their eardrums.. I appreciate the need for fighter pilot training but I choose not to live in their flight path. If you choose to live around here be prepared for lots of subsonic aircraft noise, and then don't complain when you have to live with it..
This boat in the picture below put me in mind of somewhere distant and tropical and mysterious: it;'s not really, that's just my imagination going into overdrive.
Rusty is not a water dog.

I casn't seem to get away from turtles lately. Here's another one:
Water that still almost makes me think a turtle's life can't be as bad as they say.
One in one thousand eggs grows to maturity. I can't get that statistic out of my mind.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


Summer is rainy season in the Keys when sudden thunderstorms sweep down and deposit buckets of water amid all the drama of heavy black clouds, sudden winds and rolling thunder. 
The temperature drops twenty degrees, landmarks disappear in the murk and half an hour later the only sign of the sudden disturbance is wet surfaces steaming in the reemerged sunshine.
So it was when I went into town for exercise as usual followed by a snap decision to cut my hair. I saw the black cloud lurking but I had my waterproofs and anyway, how bad could it be I asked myself. Pretty bad actually, as rain descended with ferocity and instant flooding followed.
I cowed under an awning for a while and made a transoceanic call to Florence in Italy, totally free on WhatsApp.  I am still amazed by technology and making free calls around the world blows me away. 
After that amusement passed and the rain eased a little I got going wrapped in plastic and picking my way through deeply flooded intersections wondering how the Burgman's belt drive would cope. Fine as it turned out but it was a test  as flood waters swirled around the floorboards.. 
 I wasn't alone on two wheels and others manged the streets with more aplomb than I:
 Oddly enough there wasn't enough wind to make the ocean boil o there was still boat traffic wandering around between squalls:
 The sudden weather onslaught brought it's own beauty:

I never bothered to take my helmet off as it was still raining. Imagine my surprise when it started to rain date palm fronds and one hit my head with a loud clunk. Lucky I was wearing my helmet as it turned out. 
I got home with feet soaked through but for the rest only mildly damp. ten miles from Key West skies were blue and sunny and there wasn't the slightest hint of the drama I had ridden through. So it is around here in summer.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Rusty At The Beach

The Old Bahia Honda Bridge has been my salvation this long searingly hot summer. 
When I bring Rusty here I get to distract myself with seascapes eminently photographable:
And a summer filled with clouds and flat seas fills me with wonder at the beauty of nature.
I am not fond of drone photography, sunset photography and palm tree photography which around here tends to turn to cliche.
But the scenery here tends to drive me to overcome my scruples.
I enjoy walking here as its the only place in the Keys whee you get some height over the water as this is where Flagler's engineers built up a huge ramp to the bridge to enable his trains to climb the grade in 1912 to cross the Deep Bay (Bahia Honda).

The old water pump for the 1942  pipeline got its coup de grace from Hurricane Irma in September 2017. They brought in a backhoe to knock the rest down to make it safer I guess. This is all that's left with the ridiculous No Trespassing sign, the one posted for idiots. 
This used to be a green and pleasant view before that awful storm killed everything.
Forgive my nostalgia but I remember it like this and I miss it:
It was lovely when less ravaged:
Cheyenne engaged in thorough but delicate investigation:
And now it is Rusty's turn to pick up where Cheyenne left off:
And he does it well:

Nothing was left unravaged by the storm:
The old water pipe uncovered: