Monday, September 21, 2020

Giving Thanks

Not Thanksgiving, when we have to give thanks to order,  but for reasons more in my head I am feeling thankful today. I was looking at pictures of the Gulf Coast with people waist deep in water and that of course had me remembering three years ago living through the wreckage of Hurricane Irma, no electricity, no water for days and dirt and smells everywhere. I was lucky as the police station's generator kept going, and though we were unwashed and flushed toilets with buckets we had cold air and camaraderie. In those moments of crisis, as I am sure they are discovering once again in battered Pensacola and Gulf Shores there are moments of good that come through the misery.

Key West Florida
I am enjoying normal even if I have to get up at 4:30 to walk Rusty through an empty, distanced town. The city commission was supposed to lift the requirement that we wear masks outdoors at all times but old fashioned news in these times of rapid social gossip moves slowly. Apparently the city did agree to align with the county which requires outdoor masks only when social distancing is impossible, and that seems sensible and less divisive to me in time when being annoyed is the norm. I also read the governor is now questioning the six foot rule even as he moves to lift all restrictions on bars and restaurants today. My wife and I plod on in isolation, she working from home, me working in the tightly locked dispatch center...the new abnormal.
Key West Florida
The simple fact that so far we have had no hurricane threaten us has been something to be grateful for this summer and fall. To cope with the wild variety of problems storms bring with them while while at the same time trying to cope with the pandemic seems too much. Reading the stories of ghastly fire evacuations and homelessness from the Western States makes me realize how doubly lucky we are in this part of the world to be storm free in a pandemic. And so far we live serene normal peaceful lives in the Keys.
Meteorologically speaking it is serene for the moment, but economically it's another story. Store closures are nothing new in Key West. Ever since the last great revitalization effort began in the late 60s and  mid 70s Key West has seen stores and restaurants come and go. People who want to prove their local superiority will throw out names of past glories...as though Pantry Pride or El Cacique, Hukilau or The Copa give you longevity and credibility in the struggle to be a true local in Key West. Yet these days the rate of closure and the prospects for re-opening when the problems aren't simply a local phenomenon should give one pause. How do you bring back a local economy when the planet itself is struggling to redefine normal?
Generally speaking entrepreneurs love Key West with its defined market and tons of foot traffic and reputation as a place where visitors enjoy eating and drinking while enjoying live music. Anyone with a powerful desire to open a restaurant wants to try their luck and test their fortitude here at the end of the road. Every closure reported on the grapevine is accompanied by the curiosity quotient: what will come next? My wife always hoped the  attempts at Indian dining would stick but they never did. She's given up now and part of her enforced home life is ordering cookbooks and using an Instapot. She makes a mean masala bowl of legumes and spices as a reminder that we face an era of self reliance newly defined. Bad news for restaurants perhaps?
Key West Florida
We have indeed stepped up during the pandemic by ordering take out and delivery and yet it isn't always enough. The iconic Roof Top Cafe is gone, the 200 block of Duval is half shuttered and so on. Schools are in session but given the reports from around the country one can only imagine how the youngsters are currently busy infecting each other and in a few weeks the results should be visible. How do you get a middle school classroom to understand social distancing? I have no children but unless kids have changed a lot since I was beardless it seems impossible to method they can understand the nuances that confuse the grown ups around them.
Key West Florida
In my head I struggle with the violence of daily life that seems to be made that much worse by online anonymity, political rage, medical threats to our collective health, lies, conspiracies, confusion and fear. But the boredom of self imposed confinement, the sameness of daily life cannot obscure the good fortune we still have to to get through these trying times with our own dignity and sense of purpose. I see giving thanks hoping things will speed up and start getting better soon. Two more years of pandemic they tell us?  I groan but at least the national elections will be done one way or another...What strange times we live in.
These meandering unformed thanksgiving thoughts were prompted by an innocent question from a youngster at work who asked me what the world looked like thirty years ago compared to now. Was forced to think and try to remember and conjure up long buried feelings from that era. I remember the Iran-Contra scandal and the apparent violations of assorted laws and the sense of wild lawlessness of the fight against Communism which threatened the integrity of our neighbors in Central America...it seemed a pivotal time. And yet as I tried to explain it I look back to photos from the era with a certain comfortable nostalgia. Nothing seems as bad as the present time and that thought encouraged me to find comfort in the tribulations of the present. Perhaps in thirty years if I am still alive (92 years old?) these will look like halcyon days in retrospect. We humans are very peculiar.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Fishing With Birds

I got my 'flu shot Friday morning, a last minute appointment which I could not refuse as I don't much like the 'flu. The unfortunate part was that my plans to spend the morning, a rare morning off with no rain, at the beach got scuppered. Rusty and I went out nothing daunted to grab an hour or so wandering with camera. The van stayed home unfortunately as there would be no time to swim shower or laze around. 
Florida Keys
The moon must have been doing something fishy because everyone was out chasing fish that morning, except me. I watched from the heights near the old Bahia Honda bridge as people rushed around in their boats looking very picturesque.
Rusty and I drove on the Veterans Memorial Park, reopened with limited facilities following the leveling it got by Hurricane Irma in 2017. There are picnic tables without shelter and porta-potties while the toilet block remains boarded up. The views are still lovely. And the pelicans were circling around and making a solid breakfast from one particular patch of ocean.
There was one other car in the parking lot with a roof rack and the occupant soon hove into view in his rather pretty canoe. He made for the pelicans and shooed them off by casting a bait net into their breakfast.
Then a flats boat showed up, apparently everyone trusts the pelicans to know where the fish are. They stood and stared at the water for a bit and then disappeared at which point the patient pelicans came back and started diving for brunch once again. 
Florida Boating
I enjoyed watching the birds doing their thing and even though the fish must have been having a hard time of it there seemed to be, from the safety and distance of my picnic table, a certain symmetry to the process. Nature at work and that sort of thing. 
The birds were certainly more picturesque than the lumping boaters who barged in and scared them off.
Florida Keys
You can see the pelican sitting patiently to one side as the intruder churned through the school of fish.
Florida Keys
It was a beautiful morning and it was decidedly a shame to have to leave so early and go back to the big city and face the needle. Actually since I was in the hospital where I was pricked with a needle, at least one every day for 90 days fear of the needle has rather evaporated. Fear of missing out on the chance to spend a morning at the beach with the van which I enjoy more and more is uppermost in my mind. Swimming season will end most likely in six weeks when we switch back to winter time and cold fronts.
Straits of Florida

Florida Coast

Saturday, September 19, 2020

African Cemetery

There was a time when Key West had it's cemetery close by until a storm washed ashore and uncovered the graves and left coffins exposed after the hurricane blew by. At that point in the mid 19th century the city moved the cemetery to the edge of town in the middle of the island. This cemetery not only wasn't moved, it was never even acknowledged.
Key West
I included a picture of the historical marker because nowadays the African Cemetery is acknowledged and if your screen is large enough and your patience strong enough you can rad the words for yourself.
Key West Florida
The story is told in the images embedded in the monument as well but here's the short version: It was 1860  and slavers were transporting humans to Cuba in defiance of US rules enacted in 1808 against the importation of slaves. The US Navy intercepted three slavers bound for Havana and saved 1432 Africans from a fate worse than death. Except they didn't because the after that simple introduction the story went off the rails.
The ex-slaves were brought to Key West where the slavery debate was fierce and those in support of slavery ended up supporting the Confederacy even as the US military forcibly held Key West as a critical Union port throughout the war. Stephen Mallory took the job of Secretary of the Confederate Navy, and is still memorialized at Mallory Square, ironically enough.
No one wanted 1432 Africans dumped on their doorstep, and remember these were by no means African-Americans, they were as foreign to this hemisphere as any voluntary traveler. Naturally the city cast around for a Federal representative to deal with this sudden immigration issue and the Postmaster of all people was deemed the senior Federal representative in the city. They built shacks and a sort of hospital to deal with these people who found themselves abandoned in the middle of literally nowhere.
In those days Higgs beach was the back of beyond. Rest Beach was where cattle were landed by boat from Stock Island and slaughtered for the residents of the city a couple of miles away. This was not the back yard of the Casa marina Resort in 1860.
As you can imagine things didn't go well for the Africans. 294 died following the ill-treatment on their passage across The Atlantic and who arrived in key West beyond saving. The other 1100 became a sore point for everyone. They couldn't stay because then they would end up slaves and avoiding that fate was the whole point of the interception by the US Navy. No one knew where they came from. Africa is a continent, not a country and their origins were lost at a time when Africa was barely mapped and not by slave traders.
The Postmaster who did his best by the sudden arrivals petitioned the Federal Government for reimbursement of the money he personally spent on the Africans and never got a penny back, naturally.
Florida Keys
In the end the slaves were put on ships and sent back to Africa, to America's quasi-colony of Liberia lacking any better destination. The next time you figure life is unfair imagine the unfairness these people suffered, being uprooted, transported, dumped, rerouted and dumped in a strange place far from home to live out your life among strangers in a. foreign, albeit African land.  The mind boggles.
It's a lot to think about as you wander the cemetery which in point of fact is rather more an open air museum than a simple burial ground. Ground penetrating radar turned up the burial sites in 2002 which eventually led to the creation of the place you see in these pictures, a map, some names, some symbols and rather disturbingly you can see these oval shapes in the cement.
Each one a known body among the 294 buried here and possibly under ground in areas nearby. September is a good time to come and think about this place as the crowds are away and you can be alone tiptoeing around the thoughts that come to mind as even today we struggle to understand the legacy of those days.
The notion that "All Lives Matter' seems rather fatuous to me when you consider the likelihood of this story unfolding in 1860 in the US and being forgotten for 140 years. Some lives have mattered much more than others over the decades and this spot is evidence of that indisputable fact.  
Key West

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Blue Hour

This photo inspired this page. All I saw was a busy dog at dusk and everything was a shade of blue and I wasn't even messing with the white balance setting. If you use the indoor setting in sunlight it give your pictures this sort of blue shade. And that sort of messing around is what I like to do with my camera. Sometimes the drive behind the picture is to reproduce reality and other times it becomes obvious reality can't be encapsulated in a frame and then unreality takes over.  I can't do that with my phone. The phone camera I find overrides my vision and reproduces a perfect picture, no peculiar taste allowed. Besides which the phone doesn't feel like a camera, it feels like a slippery cube with no viewfinder. It works really well as a telegraph machine and a book. 
Were you foolish enough to scroll back through the years you'd see horrid small garish pictures on this page which were as good as my half megapixel Android phone could manage... and it seemed like a miracle to take pictures with a phone. And then post them online on my own page. Extraordinary.  I well remember the moment I realized I needed a phone capable of taking pictures. I was working night shift in police dispatch and the heat alarm went off in the radio room, a closet filled with towers of electronics that manage 911, administrative phone lines, and the police fire and rescue radio systems.  The stacks generate huge amounts of heat but cannot go above a certain temperature otherwise the electronics burn up.
Anyway the alarm went off and I was in charge and had to deal with it before everything melted down. My supervisor asked me sleepily to take a picture of the alarm panel and send it to her. I looked at my flip phone and pondered my options. where were: None. So I asked Nick for help and he whipped out a camera, took a picture and miraculously the camera became a phone and then a fax and the picture got sent. Furthermore Nick got exact instructions how to reset the system and the night progressed uneventfully. I was a convert and my flip phone anachronism was soon replaced by an Android camera and this page was born in 2007 as I got the urge to take pictures for fun.  Later I got tired of having to build my own phone by using Android options and  drank the iPhone integrated Kool Aid and now have electronics that work seamlessly, thus exposing myself electronically to the Apple overlords who I doubt care very much about me or my pictures or my private information. The fact is modern phones work utterly reliably and take excellent pictures. And yet I like to walk around with a camera.
In those distant days I declined to even remove overhead wires, all those black lines that clutter the beauty of Key West were reality and I was tied to reality. I struggled to make the tiny telephone take color accurate pictures which it was loth to do. Then I noticed I really liked the orange glow of night pictures which I thought imparted a warmth which seemed suitable to a place where nights are as hot as days. But for general photography I wanted more reach, a telephoto lens and the ability to compose more interesting pictures. I actually came to feel limited by the phone.
Cell phone cameras now have telephoto lenses and all sorts of electronic trickery but somehow I find looking through the viewfinder of my camera piques my interest to see more. Oddly enough my cameras aren't expensive and seater than use a thousand dollar newest iPhone I walk around with a $500 camera  with a telephoto lens and lots of electronic knobs to mess with my pictures. On a sunny day blue skies fill my viewfinder:
At night the Truman Waterfront Park showed deep sky blue on the ground at the children's water park. I filled the frame of my telephoto lens with blue, I zoomed out the extraneous rides and different colors and tried to take advantage of the street light to assist my camera. Rusty watches the performance and I'm not sure if he is bored, applauding or critical. Perhaps he wishes he could use a camera but he's not saying. I photograph for both of us.
The skies this summer have yielded surprising shades of blue often filled with impressive banks of clouds lit up morning and evening as though they are on fire. My camera inspires me to go out and look. My phone doesn't. The heat and the coronavirus have pushed me away from crowded places in daylight. My memories of this bizarre year in Key West will be tinged with the blue shades of many dawns which have seen me walking my patient dog waiting for the sun to come up. Photographers call the first shards of light and the last of the light in the evening "the blue hour" when the sun is gone and with it the preferred golden rays which give everything that special light.  Like a vampire I get to see a lot of predawn blue this year.
My Key West is a place not much recorded. When I look around I see online the pictures of a Key West that lives in the imagination of visitors and the promotional materials of the businesses that want them. I am acutely aware that after I take to the road these images will go with me and are unlikely to be replaced until I get back. I keep my pictures in the cloud on Goggle for the princely sum of a dollar a month and I like to flip through them from time to time and enjoy the memories they trigger. 
I expect I will be pushed to the fringes the deeper we go into the century. Already I see video as the tool of the short attention span masses and I can't be bothered with time and complexity of video and I hate watching videos as they rarely have high production values and don't give mt the time to linger with images or thoughts the way still pictures do. I enjoy lingering over images I like, I enjoy words, and I enjoy thinking. I do believe I am an anachronism already but this doesn't make me blue. It makes me want to seek out more pictures, they're out there, and to do it on my cheap FZ1000 camera, a six year old model still sold brand new by Panasonic. Its a complicated piece of plastic but coming to terms with all the buttons and menus and making it do what I want is where I find the fun. It has one fixed lens which is undoubtedly not the best at any one thing but it is a jack of all trades and lightweight so it travels with me everywhere. It works with no maintenance except charging the batteries and as it has no attachments all I carry is the camera, a cloth to wipe the lens clean and sometimes a spare battery. I laugh when photographers announce to the world the merits of traveling light and staying simple. I am certain my cheap simple camera is far too old fashioned for them but I do what I do for me, not a paymaster. This picture I took in the dark, in a. range of light that causes graininess in the picture, called "noise." Nevertheless I find the view across the mangroves deep into the blue hour at Blimp Road evocative for me and that's what counts. A three thousand dollar camera or the hassle of mine with a tripod could have got a cleaner image. But how could I follow Rusty with my machine stuck on a tripod? A conundrum.
I hope you can find your fun in this never-ending semi-lockdown state we live in. If you can't then the virus wins and you go mad. Better to take fuzzy pictures and keep your dog happy than to go mad. better to do that than risk getting the blues....good luck.
Panasonic Camera

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Astonishing Sunrise

There are days that just start out well and when Rusty rolled me out of bed I wasn't ready on my lone day off to be awake. Nevertheless the small brown dog was proved right. The morning in the mangroves was spectacular even by local standards and I struggled to capture the essence of it even as I found myself wading through high tides increased by heavy rains that broke records at the key West National Weather Service Office.

Today is supposed to be the day the Key West city commission votes to remind the mask outdoors all the time requirement. The idea is to fall in line with county regulations that require masks indoors and makes them required outdoors only when you can't be socially distant. It's a change that would make sense to me but it is going to be followed soon enough by relaxation of all sorts of crowd prevention rules across Florida. I find the whole coronavirus response somewhat bizarre and it seems as though we are now going into a phase this Fall of even less common sense.

I suppose in the short attention span world in which we live the expectation that we can hold the line on a coherent virus response is too much to hope for. I was never certain how the "Greatest Generation" was a title bestowed on my father's generation considering how much written history we have behind us, how many generations have struggled with issues of great moment. I supposed that the struggles of the 20th century were closest to us, well documented and relatively easily understood as the history was explained to us. Thanks to modern technology we saw how hard it really was to survive the Depression and the assorted ghastly wars, in color, in our faces. 
"The past is another country; they do things differently there." It has been brought home to me thanks to the virus, how differently we cope these days with challenges and  struggles that may or may not affect us all directly. I don't think our collective response to the virus could be described as "great" by any stretch of the imagination. I find coronavirus creates a lot of excuses to avoid doing right by your neighbor.  
I come out into the woods with Rusty and my camera and for me it's perfect social distancing whether there is a plague or not. The annoying thing about mask wearing, aside that it fogs up your glasses, is. that not wearing the cloth puts others at risk. If the non wearer was putting their own life on the line fair enough,  but because it's the weak and vulnerable at risk, not wearing a mask takes on the appearance of callousness that I find quite exasperating.  
I have in my own way tried to understand the nuances of wearing masks and social distancing and so forth and I never thought wearing a mask while isolated outdoors made much sense. I hope the city will have repealed that rule by the time you read this (or looked at the pictures).  I used to worry bout transmission by touching objects which was a giant pain but when the scientists decided that the virus is hard to transmit via objects I felt a lot happier. 
At work I worry about contagion but with the door locked and dispatchers isolated I just have to rely on the common sense of people I work with. While young they are exposed to the crap in life and so far they seem to understand the peculiar risks of this illness. It's hard to pretend coronavirus doesn't exist when you take calls from people watching their loved ones die from it. I hear the ambulance crews transporting patients while dressed in their special gear and their voices over the radio are muffled and after the transport they have to take extra time to disinfect the special covid 19 ambulance. We don't ask people to do CPR any more when they come across a person who isn't breathing. Our instructions for over-the-phone CPR developed by emergency room doctors with great care and thought over the years, are collecting dust. If you collapse in the street nowadays you'd better hope the ambulance is close by as no one, mask wearer or not, wants to touch a potential virus carrier. Coronavirus has long tentacles for all the politicians like to say it doesn't exist.
Many years ago I was taking a college course on some subject and one of the books was a novel titled "East Abides." It was a simplistic story as I recall but it carried a message that even after catastrophe life will go on, The title of the book springs to mind as I wade through the high high tides under dark blue skies.
I've been walking these trails for years and out here where nothing seems to change. No masks, no people, no pandemic, no worries for me or for Rusty. The sun was coming up like this on that Sunday morning in December 1941. It will come up the same way long after the keys are submerged by rising seas.
I find the more I watch the more clarity I gain from the natural world around me. The more I watch people the more baffling they become. I got a call the other morning from a man trapped in an elevator in town. He was unhinged not by claustrophobia but by the fact the elevator phone didn't work and he had to resort to his cellphone to call 911. Well I said brightly all's well as I can send you help. He went off on me as though I were the elevator phone technician ignoring his complaint. I dispatched the engine which released them from their predicament in less than ten minutes. The angry man was yelling at me that he got on the elevator once and it had stuck before releasing them, but on their second attempt it had stuck between floors. 
I said nothing but spent some time pondering why you would take a second chance with a clearly malfunctioning elevator and furthermore why it was my fault the elevator clearly had some technical problems. I suspect my despair at the future of coronavirus in our country stems from these sorts of daily encounters with people who display a dreadful lack of common sense.
You can't lock economies down without some form of economic life support and in the same way you can't effectively legislate mask wearing without extensive education and encouragement.  It feels to me as though we have failed on both counts and now we will have coronavirus to contend with for months to come. 
To have been locked down since March seems intolerable, made less so by the canal for swimming behind my house, the van for isolated journeys away from home, work with energetic motivated youngsters and long walks with camera and Rusty to stay aware of what really maters.
I have been reading a lot of history, particularly of the privations of the Greatest Generation as revealed by the passage of time and distance from the events themselves. To read about the suffering of those years and to compare that to the freedom robbing inconvenience of wearing a mask gives me added perspective. I heard enough stories abut the privations of the period from people who raised me but faced with the complaisance and casual indifference this virus has sown so easily among us I wonder why I ever questioned why they were the Greatest Generation.
World War II Rationing on the U.S. Homefront | Ames History Museum